International mediators have modified their proposed framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh to increase chances of its acceptance by Armenia and Azerbaijan, a top U.S. official said on Monday.
The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group representing the United States, Russia and France met in the Polish city of Krakow at the weekend to discuss ways of pushing the Karabakh peace further forward following fresh talks held by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Moscow on July 17-18.
In a joint statement issued ahead of those talks, the presidents of the three mediating powers said they have instructed the co-chairs to present the conflicting parties with an “updated version” of their basic principles of a Karabakh settlement that were formally put forward in Madrid in November 2007.
“As directed by our three presidents in their joint declaration of July 10, 2009, we prepared an updated version of the Madrid Document,” the U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, commenting on the Krakow meeting. He described the meeting as “productive and creative.”
“We now have a chance to finalize the Basic Principles,” said Bryza. He praised Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s leaders for being “constructive” and making “significant progress” in the long-running peace talks.
“The co-chairs also express their thanks to former President [Robert] Kocharian and Foreign Minister [Vartan] Oskanian whose thoughts and efforts helped lay the foundation for the Madrid Document,” added Bryza. “We have now moved beyond that document under Armenia’s current leaders, President [Serzh] Sarkisian and Foreign Minister [Eduard] Nalbandian, who have helped elicit progress in tough but constructive negotiations over the past year.”
Sticking to the confidentiality of the long-running peace process, the U.S. official did not specify whether the basic principles underwent significant changes. He said only that he and fellow co-chairs Yuri Merzlyakov and Bernard Fassier “carefully considered the views expressed by the sides since we presented the Madrid Document in November 2007.”
Contrary to the mediators’ expectations, Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev failed to bridge their remaining differences over those principles during their July 17 one-on-one discussion in Moscow. According to Merzlyakov, the two leaders made more progress when they met in the presence of their Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, the next day.
“There are interesting solutions which the presidents found in the trilateral format,” Merzlyakov told the Azerbaijani Trend news agency on July 22. “I think that this could produce a positive result in the future.” The Russian diplomat did not elaborate.
The Madrid principles call for the liberation of the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. They also envisage a future referendum of self-determination in Karabakh. The Armenian-controlled disputed territory would retain its de facto independence and a land corridor with Armenia proper in the interim.
According to some sources familiar with the negotiating process, the main stumbling block so far has been the liberation of Kelbajar and Lachin, two of the occupied Azerbaijani districts sandwiched between Karabakh and Armenia. They say former President Kocharian insisted on their return under Azerbaijani control only after the Karabakh vote. This condition was rejected by Aliyev. Sarkisian’s position on the matter is not clear.
Meeting with Sweden’s visiting Foreign Minister Carl Bildt last week, Sarkisian indicated that the conflicting parties also have yet to fully work out all practical modalities of the proposed referendum that would presumably enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to legitimize its secession from Azerbaijan.