By Emil Danielyan and Anna Saghabalian
International mediators said they still hope to broker a framework peace accord on Nagorno-Karabakh before the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan as they began yet another round of regional shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday.
The chief U.S. Karabakh negotiator, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, insisted that the conflicting parties are “very close” to fully agreeing on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group.
President Robert Kocharian said earlier this month that despite substantial progress made in Armenian-Azerbaijan peace talks, the conflict is unlikely to be resolved before the Armenian and Azerbaijani elections.
“Unlikely means less than 50 percent,” Bryza told RFE/RL before he and the Minsk Group’s French and Russian co-chairs went into talks with Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. “It can mean 49 percent, 48 percent, which is maybe not much different than 'likely.'”
“But we are realists and know that in the world of politics when an election is approaching it’s more difficult to make concessions,” he said.
Bryza’s French counterpart, Bernard Fassier, was likewise unsure about chances of a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute as he spoke to RFE/RL after the mediators’ meeting with Oskanian. “If we were the persons making the decision, my answer would definitely be yes,” he said. “But the fact is that other persons are in charge of making a compromise deal.”
“I don’t know when they will be ready to do that,” added Fassier.
The mediators hoped that Kocharian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev will meet again and take the final step towards mutual compromise before the end of this year. But the two leaders pointedly declined to hold such a meeting on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Tajikistan earlier this month and are unlikely to do so in the coming months.
“That doesn’t mean the process stops,” insisted Bryza. “We are so very close on just a few remaining technical issues. It would be a shame if we didn’t reach some sort of a gentlemen’s agreement on this framework that’s on the table.”
“Whether the agreement comes before the elections or shortly after, we are, as we say in American English, in the ballpark and it’s time to put the ball in the net,” he said.
Baku and Yerevan are understood to have already accepted the main points of the Minsk Group’s existing peace plan. It calls for a gradual resolution of the conflict would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to decide the disputed region’s status in a referendum years after the liberation of surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Diplomatic sources privy to the negotiating process say the parties still disagree on practical modalities of the proposed referendum as well as the timetable for Armenian withdrawal from those territories.