By Ruben Meloyan and Emil Danielyan
The U.S., Russian and French mediators were due to brief fellow diplomats from other OSCE members states Monday on the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and, in particular, the results of their latest tour of the conflict zone.
The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group held talks with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan before ending the tour with a trip to Stepanakert on Saturday. They sought to further bridge the conflicting parties’ differences over a framework peace accord formally put forward by them during an OSCE ministerial meeting in Madrid last November.
The co-chairs’ latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy came three weeks after the first meeting of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and his new Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian. Both sides described the meeting held in Saint-Petersburg, Russia as productive.
It is not clear if the mediators made further progress towards the signing of their Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement. The Regnum news agency quoted the group’s Russian co-chair, Yuri Merzlyakov, as saying in Stepanakert that the parties agree on 11 of the 15 proposed principles. He refused to give further details.
The Minsk Group plan calls for the conflict’s gradual resolution that would lead to an Armenian withdrawal from virtually all of the Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh and allow its predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed territory’s status in a future referendum. Official Yerevan has described this peace formula as largely acceptable to the Armenian side.
Azerbaijani officials’ statements on the issue have been more ambiguous. According to a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Aliev again told the mediators on Friday that the conflict can be resolved “only within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.”
Matthew Bryza, the chief U.S. negotiator, told RFE/RL in Yerevan later on Friday that Aliev assured co-chairs that Baku remains committed to continuing peace talks within the Minsk Group framework. Aliev and other Azerbaijani officials earlier criticized the group for doing little to restore Baku’s control over Karabakh and threatened to ask other international bodies take over the negotiation process.
“That’s a good start and now we’ve got to get deeper into the details to finalize the Madrid document,” Bryza said after he and the two other co-chairs had what he described as a “very substantive discussion” with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.
Bryza, Merzlyakov and France’s Bernard Fassier met Sarkisian the next morning and proceeded to Stepanakert later on Saturday. They met there with Bako Sahakian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Sahakian reiterated the Karabakh Armenians’ view that the conflict can not be resolved without their direct involvement in the talks. A statement by his office said the co-chairs assured him that that is “a matter of time.”