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By Ruzanna Stepanian
The European Union’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, paid a brief visit to Yerevan on Friday to discuss efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Arkady Ghukasian, the Armenian-populated region’s president.

“I wouldn’t say it was a negotiation,” he told reporters after the meeting with Ghukasian. “It was an exchange of opinions on overall situation in Karabakh and the negotiation process.”

Like other European and U.S. officials, Semneby expressed hope that the conflicting parties will step up their protracted search for a mutually acceptable solution after the May 12 parliamentary elections in Armenia.

“It is very important to build on progress that has been made in the negotiation process since the Minsk meeting [in November last year] of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents,” he said. “It is a bit worrying that due to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia negotiations are proceeding less actively at the moment.”

Asked whether he believes a framework peace accord can be reached before the end of this year, Semneby said: “I very much hope that that will be the case.”

The French, Russian and U.S. mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group are pushing for the signing of such an accord before the start of campaigning for next year’s presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. They hope to arrange yet another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit shortly after the upcoming vote.

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who is gearing up for both the parliamentary and presidential elections, on Thursday cast doubt on the success of those efforts. “I kind of doubt that those principles [of a peaceful settlement proposed by the Minsk Group co-chairs] will be agreed upon in 2007,” Sarkisian said.

According to Ghukasian, the parties are still apart on some key contentious issues, including the proposed referendum of self-determination in Nagorno-Karabakh. “There isn’t a single issue on which there is a clear-cut agreement,” he said after the meeting with the EU envoy.

Still, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov insisted on Wednesday that a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute is a real possibility. “I personally think that it is the most suitable time for settling the conflict,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mammadyarov as saying at the John Hopkins University in Washington.

(Photolur photo)
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