By Emil Danielyan
International mediators on Monday voiced satisfaction with their latest talks with the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that the peace process is moving forward despite the approaching elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The American, French and Russian negotiators said the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are displaying a “constructive approach” to their efforts to “finalize a set of basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“The presidents are defending their national interests vigorously, and they are doing so in a way that allows the peace process to continue moving forward,” the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said in a joint statement issued three days after their fresh tour of the conflict zone.
“The Co-Chairs urge all parties to sustain this momentum in the negotiations and to prepare their publics for the necessary compromises,” they said, hinting that a framework peace accord may still be hammered out in the course of this year.
President Robert Kocharian has made it clear that he will not cut any compromise deals with Azerbaijan before this spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections. Officials in Yerevan say privately that the parties and the mediators will make another push for Karabakh peace later this year, before the start of campaigning for presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan next year.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has again claimed that he will never agree to any peaceful settlement that would legitimize Karabakh’s independence or unification with Armenia. In an interview with the French daily “Le Figaro” published on Monday, he said Baku is only ready to grant the Karabakh Armenians “the highest degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan.”
Armenian leaders say such comments are at odds with the letter and spirit of the Minsk Group’s existing peace plan that appears to accept the possibility of international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Soviet Azerbaijan. Under that plan, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to determine the disputed territory’s status in a referendum.