Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sounded on Tuesday a cautious note on chances of decisive progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process at this week’s summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In an interview with Radio Rossii, Lavrov said “serious problems” still stand in the way of arduous peace efforts by Russia, the United States and France.
Moscow has taken center stage in the process, with President Dmitry Medvedev hosting recently talks between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts for the seventh time in less than three years. He said the conflicting parties could “reach an agreed variant of common regulation principles” by the OSCE summit to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan on December 1-2.
According to Lavrov, the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group are now trying to work out a “statement” on Karabakh that would be signed by the parties and the mediating powers at Astana. “I hope that they will succeed,” he said.
“But I can not say yet that at the summit in Astana we will succeed in achieving a real breakthrough regarding the settlement itself,” Lavrov told the state-run Russian broadcaster. “This is a very painstaking work. This work involves the need to reconcile the sometimes diametrically opposite positions of the parties, and it is incompatible with any haste.”
“If the Astana summit contributes to further progress [in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks,] then that will be a serious achievement,” he added.
Lavrov said in August that Moscow wants Baku and Yerevan to sign an interim agreement on Karabakh that would leave out the “two or three issues” that have not yet been agreed upon. He said both Washington and Paris support this idea.
One of those sticking points relates to a future referendum on Nagorno-Karabakh’s status proposed by the mediators. Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would presumably be able to determine the final status of the disputed enclave years after Armenian withdrawal from districts in Azerbaijan proper surrounding it.
In an op-ed article published by Project Syndicate last week, Armenia’s former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that the parties have still not agreed on the timing of the proposed referendum. “That failure remains the main obstacle to addressing the many other outstanding problems between the parties to the conflict,” he wrote.
“If, in Astana, a high-level group reinforces the idea of a referendum and sets a mutually acceptable date, this would be a significant achievement,” said Oskanian, who led the Armenian diplomacy from 1998-2008.
Azerbaijan has insisted, at least until now, that no specific date be set for the vote. According to a classified U.S. State Department document publicized by WikiLeaks on Sunday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev complained to a visiting top U.S. official in February that Yerevan wants a referendum date to be fixed in the text of the peace accord.