By Anna Saghabalian
International mediators claimed on Thursday to have made further progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but indicated that no Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accords will be signed before Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election.
The American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group held a joint news conference in Yerevan after several days of fresh negotiations with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Karabakh. They are due to complete their latest round of shuttle diplomacy on Friday with a follow-up meeting in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev.
“I think we agree that we sense both [the Armenian and Azerbaijani] presidents are moving in the same direction and have a common vision of what an agreement on the basic principles will look like,” said Matthew Bryza, Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair. “And I think both presidents realize that their counterpart is trying and is moving forward.”
Bryza had said last October that the mediating troika hopes Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian will reach a verbal “gentlemen’s agreement” on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement before the Armenian election scheduled for February 19.
But the U.S. diplomat argued on Thursday that there is no need to set “artificial deadlines” for such an agreement now because Aliev and Kocharian have proved their commitment to mutual compromise and need more time to clarify “every sentence, every word, every letter” in the framework peace deal formally proposed to them last November. “We sense that they are trying to finish the process as soon as possible,” he said.
Bernard Fassier, France’s chief Karabakh negotiator, implied that such a deal is unlikely to be formalized even before the presidential election due in Azerbaijan this fall. “If the parties’ final answer on the whole [Minsk Group] package comes before the Armenian presidential elections, that will be wonderful,” he said. “If it comes during the Armenian and Azerbaijani elections, that will also be wonderful. If that happens after the Azerbaijani presidential elections, that will be wonderful too.”
The authorities in Baku and Yerevan are understood to have already agreed in principle on the main points of the Minsk Group’s current peace proposals. Those call 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.
Karabakh Armenian leaders, notably the disputed region’s former President Arkady Ghukasian, have expressed serious misgivings about the proposed peace formula before. Ghukasian’s successor Bako Sahakian, who received the mediators in Stepanakert on Wednesday, has not yet publicly commented on it.
The mediators gave no details of their talks in the Karabakh capital, with Fassier saying only that they were pleased to “sensible and pragmatic” statements from Karabakh leaders.