By Tigran Avetisian
The chief United States negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sounded optimistic that the continuing Armenian-Azerbaijani talks can ultimately produce “a balanced agreement acceptable to both parties”, but said he expected no breakthrough by the end of this year.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said there was no need to force the process to accelerate.
“The process is moving at its own momentum thanks to the fact that Presidents Ilham Aliev [of Azerbaijan] and Serzh Sarkisian [of Armenia] seem to have developed some sort of personal chemistry and mutual respect, and maybe even the beginning of trust for each other,” he added.
The American cochairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group, however, thinks that building trust requires time.
“We can’t force it,” said Bryza, at the same time describing as ‘quite significant’ the recent declaration signed by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow.
“It was a declaration that was not issued in any way outside of the framework of the Minsk Group,” said Bryza, who along with his French and Russian counterparts attended the Moscow summit of Sarkisian and Aliev.
“The fact that [Russian] President Dmitry Medvedev decided he wanted to play some sort of a role or maybe strengthen Russia’s reputation a bit in the South Caucasus is fine. Because what he produced or helped produce is a very useful document.”
The Moscow declaration signed by the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, in particular, refers to the principles that were drafted and presented to the parties at the OSCE summit in Madrid a year ago as a possible basis for continued negotiations and an ultimate peaceful, political solution to the long-running dispute. The proposed package aims to reconcile two seemingly conflicting principles of international law, namely territorial integrity and self-determination.
According to Bryza, “any agreement that will ever be reached between the sides has to have elements of both fundamental principles included, and in a way acceptable to both sides.”
“So we are not at the final agreement yet, and therefore we haven’t come up with a way to include those principles explicitly. Now we have an ambiguous formulation in the Moscow declaration, but still it is a vague formulation that tries to achieve a balance between those two principles,” the mediator said. “It is our job now to help the two presidents come up with the way to be more explicit in their formulation of how to incorporate both the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity as well as, by the way, nonuse of force into the final document.”
Bryza described the proposal put by the Minsk Group troika on the table in Madrid last November as ‘very good’ and said: “Now the challenge is to make sure we can perfect those ideas in a way that both sides’ citizens can accept.”
A referendum of self-determination at some future date in Nagorno-Karabakh appears to be a key element of the proposal.
According to Bryza, however, all important issues related to such a referendum, including the way it is organized, its timing and participants, are “still under negotiation.”