By Karine Kalantarian
Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader has called for his unrecognized republic’s participation in the current peace talks with neighboring Azerbaijan, warning that it may press Armenia to pull out of the process otherwise.
Arkady Ghukasian, who is due to step down as president next month, said he had raised the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s becoming a party to the negotiations also during his Thursday meeting with visiting international mediators.
In an RFE/RL interview he said that the cochairmen of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tasked with brokering a settlement in the Karabakh conflict had asked the Karabakh side “to help Armenia act in a more constructive manner during the negotiations.”
“I don’t exclude that Karabakh will raise a question [to Armenia] to quit negotiations as it proceeds from today’s situation and Azerbaijan’s position,” Ghukasian told RFE/RL after an unprecedented two-hour-long meeting with the French, Russian and U.S. cochairmen of the Minsk Group.
He reiterated that “it is pointless to negotiate anything without a specified status of Nagorno-Karabakh” and called the Armenia-Azerbaijan format of talks “destructive and unrealistic”.
Ghukasian downplayed the optimism of international mediators voiced in recent days ahead of this weekend’s meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
But he added: “I think a negotiator should always be optimistic. If a negotiator is not optimistic, a positive development is hard to achieve. But I didn’t get the impression that the mediators expected the upcoming meeting to be crucial.”
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev, are understood to meet on the sidelines of the informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Saint-Petersburg on June 9.
The OSCE Minks Group cochairmen Matthew Bryza of the United States, Bernard Fassier of France and Yuri Merzlyakov of Russia have been in active talks with both sides in preparation for the summit. They also met with Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in Yerevan on Thursday.
In a press conference in Yerevan tonight US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said they had “very open, honest and constructive discussions” in Yerevan and “talked about expressions of optimism or pessimism.”
“When I talk about optimism it reflects my personality. I am an optimistic person, that’s why I am a diplomat,” Bryza said. “I don’t mean by any means that we anticipate some huge breakthrough in Saint Petersburg on Saturday. But during this period I have seen a qualitative change in the quality of the discussions.”
The U.S. negotiator said that the Minsk Group has seen discussions that are “serious, respectful and in which the differences are narrowing between the sides.”
“But the differences are still there,” he added. “They require serious work, plenty more work. And that’s why we are here, because we are serious about helping to resolve those remaining differences.”
Against the backdrop of the continuing consultations, a group of a few dozen hardliners represented by veterans of the Karabakh war protested near the OSCE office in Yerevan on Thursday pronouncing against any peace plan that would involve a return of lands currently held by Armenian troops. They put their protest in writing and addressed it to the international peace brokers.