Armenia signaled on Tuesday no plans to unilaterally withdraw from ongoing peace talks with Azerbaijan in response to the controversial release from a Hungarian prison of an Azerbaijani army officer who had brutally murdered an Armenian colleague.
Still, a senior official in Nagorno-Karabakh predicted an imminent “temporary freeze” in the negotiating process mediated by the United States, Russia and France.
The Armenian government has faced domestic calls to stop negotiating with Baku amid public outrage sparked by Ramil Safarov’s extradition to Azerbaijan from Hungary and a pardon granted to him by President Ilham Aliyev.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian commented on such possibility at a joint news conference with Argentina’s visiting Foreign Minister Hector Marcos Timerman. “The affair is already having a very bad impact on the negotiating process and regional stability and security in general,” he said. “But attempts to withdraw from negotiations and torpedo them are being made not by Armenia but Azerbaijan. This is one of the reasons for this [Hungarian-Azerbaijani] deal.”
“The international community must not allow Azerbaijan to continue this adventurist policy under the guise of the negotiating process. That is fraught with serious dangers not only for regional but broader international security,” Nalbandian added, echoing a weekend statement by the Armenian Foreign Minister.
Nalbandian spoke two days after meeting the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Paris to discuss the fallout from Safarov’s release criticized by all three mediating powers. The co-chairs held separate talks there with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov there on Monday.
In an ensuing joint statement, the mediators expressed “deep concern and regret for the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the peace process and trust between the sides.” It was not clear if they plan high-level meetings between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and further visits to the Karabakh conflict zone in the coming weeks.
“It’s clear that the negotiating process is in deadlock,” Davit Babayan, the spokesman for Bako Sahakian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
“How can we now negotiate with Aliyev?” said Babayan. “How do you imagine that? What should we talk about?”
“In my opinion, the negotiating process will probably be frozen for a while,” he added. “The negotiations will be frozen by themselves, rather than at our initiative. This will probably be the best and most sensible decision in this situation.”
Prospects for a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute were dim even before the Armenian uproar sparked by Safarov’s release.