By Karine Kalantarian
France’s chief Nagorno-Karabakh conflict negotiator, Bernard Fassier, was again in Yerevan on Monday to prepare for the next round of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which he hopes will bring the parties closer to a peace accord.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to try to build on progress that seems to have been made in the negotiating process in recent months.
Fassier, who co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group with senior U.S. and Russian diplomats, already visited the capitals of the two nations last week to discuss last-minute preparations for the talks. He said he briefed Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on the results of his discussions in Baku.
“The discussions in Yerevan and Baku were useful and constructive, and I very much hope that the Geneva negotiations will also be constructive,” he told a news conference.
The French envoy also looked satisfied with his separate meeting in Yerevan with Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). “We will have to meet again in the future,” he said.
According to Ghukasian, the talks focused on ways of ensuring the NKR leadership’s involvement in the peace process, which is strongly opposed by Azerbaijan. “Mr. Fassier clearly understands that this problem can not be settled without Karabakh, and I’m sure [the three mediators] are working and will continue to work in that direction,” he said. “If Azerbaijan wants a settlement it will have to negotiate with the Karabakh side.”
Ghukasian was also more pessimistic about the results of the Geneva talks. “I don’t expect anything serious from the March 14 meeting, but think that every meeting is important,” he told journalists.
Oskanian said last week that the mediators expect him and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov to set up another face-to-face meeting of their presidents shortly after the Armenian parliamentary elections of May 12. The mediators hope that Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian will agree on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement before the start of campaigning for presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan next year.
Under a framework peace deal drafted by the Minsk Group co-chairs, Karabakh’s future status would be decided in a referendum to be held years after a gradual Armenian pullout from Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed region.
Ghukasian, who has repeatedly voiced misgivings about this formula, admitted “slight and more serious differences” in the positions of the NKR leadership and official Yerevan. He refused to go into details, saying only those differences can be overcome.
(Photolur photo: Fassier, left, is greeted by Ghukasian.)