International mediators said on Friday that they have modified their existing plan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and presented it to the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents ahead of their fresh face-to-face negotiations scheduled for Monday.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group announced unspecified changes in their “basic principles” of a Karabakh settlement after ending yet another tour of the conflict zone earlier this week.
A joint statement issued by the troika read, “As instructed by their presidents in L'Aquila in July 2009, the Co-Chairs delivered to President [Serzh] Sarkisian, just as they had to President Ilham Aliyev during their visit to Baku in December 2009, an updated version of the Madrid Document of November 2007, containing the Co-Chairs' latest articulation of the Basic Principles.”
“On January 21, the Co-Chairs met President Aliyev in Baku, Azerbaijan. In their discussions with the Co-Chairs, each president expressed their commitment to continue to pursue a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reaffirmed the seriousness of their side in the negotiations,” the statement said.
The mediators already prepared what they called an “updated version” of the proposed framework agreement when they met in Krakow, Poland in July. Their latest statement did not specify whether the document underwent further changes in the following months.
The so-called Madrid principles provide 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 on self-determination in Karabakh that could presumably lead to international recognition of its de facto secession from Azerbaijan.
According to sources familiar with the negotiating process, the remaining disagreements between the conflicting parties center on practical modalities of the referendum and time frames for Armenian troop withdrawal from Kelbajar and Lachin, the Azerbaijani districts sandwiched between Karabakh and Armenia. The parties are also understood to disagree on the status of a land corridor that would connect the two Armenian entities.
Aliyev and Sarkisian will again try to overcome these sticking points when they hold a trilateral meeting with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on Monday. According to the Regnum news agency, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope on Friday that the two leaders will continue their “intensive dialogue.” Lavrov was careful not to predict a breakthrough in the talks.
Lavrov’s Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, likewise cautioned against great expectations from the Sochi meeting. He said the peace talks will yield a tangible result only if Azerbaijan takes “a more constructive approach.” “I wouldn’t say that some breakthrough can be expected soon,” Nalbandian told a news conference.
But a senior aide to Aliyev, Norvuz Mammadov, insisted that the onus is on the Armenian side to act more “constructively” and facilitate a peaceful settlement. The APA news agency also quoted him as saying that no documents are due to be signed in Sochi.