By Emil Danielyan
Armenia and Azerbaijan are “very close” to hammering out an agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh before their presidential elections due next year, Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator told RFE/RL on Wednesday.
“They don’t agree 100 percent on the basic principles [of a peaceful settlement,] but they are close, very close,” said Matthew Bryza, a deputy assistant secretary of state and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. “They agree on the philosophy of the basic principles and most of the basic principles themselves.”
Those principles are laid down in the Minsk Group’s most recent peace plan. It calls for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would lead to a referendum of self-determination in the disputed territory after the liberation of Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan proper.
Bryza noted that although the parties have yet to agree on “a lot of technical issues that are really outstanding,” they may cut a long-awaited peace deal during the period between the May parliamentary elections in Armenia and the 2008 presidential elections due in both South Caucasus states.
“I think there is going to be a bit of a timeout in terms of the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] presidents’ diplomacy now, with the parliamentary elections in Armenia,” he said in a phone interview from Baku. “But I think all the other diplomacy can continue, and I think after the elections there is a strong possibility that the presidents will reinvigorate their negotiations.”
In a joint statement that followed their late January visit to the conflict zone, Bryza and the two other Minsk Group co-chairs urged the two leaders to “prepare their publics for the necessary compromises.”
Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian were already widely expected to reach a framework agreement on Karabakh early last year. But two rounds of face-to-face negotiations between them collapsed due to last-minute disagreements.