Armenia and Azerbaijan are narrowing their differences over a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sought by international mediators, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said over the weekend.
“We are trying to help Armenians and Azerbaijanis to reach a common approach,” the DPA news agency quoted him as saying at the Munich Security Conference. “It's obviously a very difficult issue, but things are moving.”
“The understanding is growing and the number of issues that must be tackled by the top leaders is reducing and we are trying to help,” Lavrov said.
Russia, which co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group with the United States and France, has stepped up its involvement in the Karabakh negotiating process of late, with President Dmitry Medvedev hosting this year’s first meeting of his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts near the Russian city of Sochi late last month.
Lavrov said after those talks that President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev have essentially agreed on a preamble to the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement put forward by the Minsk Group co-chairs. He said they also agreed to “prepare their own concrete ideas and formulations” on the remaining sticking points.
Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Yuri Merzlyakov, said in Sochi that Baku and Yerevan will submit relevant proposals in the next two weeks. Merzlyakov told the Azerbaijani APA news agency on Monday that the mediators have yet to receive them.
The mediators announced earlier in January that they have developed an “updated version” of the basic principles in an effort to facilitate their acceptance by the parties. The refused to disclose the changes made in the document.
In an interview with the Euronews TV channel aired last week, Aliyev again asserted that the mediators’ peace proposals are “based on restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijan will never agree to independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, or to any kind of mechanisms or procedures which will eventually lead to secession,” he said.
Armenian leaders insist that the proposed agreement does include such a mechanism. They say one of the basic principles upholds the Karabakh Armenians’ right to formalize the disputed region’s secession from Azerbaijan in a future referendum. Officials in Yerevan have also sought to cool talk of the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord in the coming months.
Aliyev sounded more optimistic on that score. “I hope that what has been agreed basically before and what we are planning to agree during 2010 will put an end to conflict and peace will come to the Caucasus,” he said.