By Aza Babayan in Moscow
Armenia and Azerbaijan are as close to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflicting as never before, a senior Azerbaijani official said on Tuesday.
“I would say that never before have we been so close to a settlement,” Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said, speaking at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “Having said that, there is a danger that we may move away from peace at any moment,” he cautioned without elaborating.
The remarks echoed optimistic statements made by international mediators in recent months. In a speech at high-level meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna last month, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian similarly said that the conflicting parties are as close to settling the bitter dispute as ever. President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have sounded less upbeat on that score, however.
The American, French, and Russian mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hope that Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev will meet again and cut a framework peace deal shortly after Armenia’s May 12 parliamentary elections. Kocharian has said the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit is tentatively scheduled for June 10.
In Azimov’s words, Oskanian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov will hold separate talks with the Minsk Group co-chairs in Strasbourg later this week. A spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed the information, according to the Regnum news agency.
The parties, meanwhile, continue to make differing interpretations of some key points of a peace accord put forward by. In particular, Azimov stood by Aliev’s claims that the proposed deal envisages an Armenian pullout from all seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh, including the Lachin corridor. He also said that Baku is ready to grant the disputed region “anything but independence.”
The Armenian side, for its part, maintains that as part of the would-be accord, the Karabakh Armenians would be able to formalize their secession from Azerbaijan in a referendum of self-determination to be held years after the Armenian troop withdrawal. It also insists that Karabakh have a “common border” with Armenia proper.