By Anna Saghabalian
International mediators met Armenian leaders on Tuesday during their latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy which they hope will yield a framework agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh before Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
The French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Yerevan the previous night from Baku where they held similar talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. They are scheduled to travel back to the Azerbaijani capital later this week.
The group’s U.S. co-chair, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, said the mediators are trying to “work out the remaining small differences” on a framework peace accord which they formally presented to the conflicting parties in November. “I’m hopeful that we will do a good job in helping the presidents figure out the way forward,” he told reporters after talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. “And that’s happening. They are moving forward.”
Bryza declined to comment on the mediators’ chances of brokering an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal before the February 19 election in Armenia. “There is no way to predict whether there will be an agreement before the Armenian elections,” he said.
“Each side has its views that it has to protect and wants to interpret every word very carefully. That takes time. We can’t rush it. We need to give the presidents time,” added the U.S. envoy.
Official Armenian sources gave no details of Kocharian’s and Oskanian’s meetings with the visiting diplomats. Bryza and his French and Russian colleagues, Bernard Fassier and Yuri Merzlyakov were due to proceed to Nagorno-Karabakh later on Tuesday and return to Yerevan Thursday.
“We need to understand the situation there,” Bryza said of the planned trip to Stepanakert. “We need to know all of the personalities there better. We need to understand how the people of Karabakh will feel as well.”
The Minsk Group’s peace plan calls for a phased resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would start with the liberation of Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed territory and the restoration of economic links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Karabakh would remain under Armenian control at least until a referendum of self-determination that would determine the territory’s final status, the main bone of contention.
Aliev repeated last week, however, that Baku will never even consider recognizing Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. “Granting Nagorno-Karabakh independence will not be a subject of negotiations neither in 10, nor in 15 or 100 years,” he reportedly told his cabinet.
Kocharian dismissed Aliev’s claims this week. The Panarmenian.net online news service quoted his spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, as saying that they are “devoid of rational meaning.”