The European Union has indicated its intention to establish direct contacts with Nagorno-Karabakh in an apparent effort to step up its involvement in international efforts to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over the territory.
Meeting in Brussels late on Monday, top foreign policy and defense officials from EU member states also expressed concern at the “slow progress” in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the OSCE’s Minsk Group. The officials making up the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council urged Baku and Yerevan to intensify their efforts to agree on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the group.
The Karabakh conflict was among the issues which the council discussed at the meeting devoted to the EU’s growing ties with the three South Caucasus states.
In written “conclusions” released after the meeting, the body headed by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, offered “enhanced support for confidence building measures” in the conflict zone. “In this regard, the EU underlines the need for unconditional access for representatives of the EU to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions,” it said.
Officials in Brussels told RFE/RL last week that the EU specifically wants to have its diplomatic and other representatives visit Karabakh without prior permission from the Azerbaijani government. They said a lack of contacts with the Karabakh Armenians hamper greater EU involvement in the peace process.
Speaking at a news conference before the council meeting, Ashton acknowledged that that the EU is now seeking a “strong and significant role” in that process.
In its statement, the Foreign Affairs Council made clear that the EU would like to act “in support of and in full complementarity with the Minsk Group,” rather than seek to replace it. It said post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction will serve as a “basis for future EU engagement” in Karabakh.
“The EU continues to support the OSCE Minsk Group and acknowledges in this context the efforts of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev to achieve progress in trilateral talks [with Armenia and Azerbaijan,]” reads the statement.
The statement contains more detailed references to the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, reiterating the EU’s “firm support” for Georgia’s sovereignty over the two breakaway regions. But it pointedly stops short of voicing similar support for the restoration of Azerbaijani control of Karabakh.