RFE/RL Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian has sat with U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick for an exclusive interview in which the senior American diplomat talks about the latest developments and prospects in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process, other related issues. Below is the full transcript of the interview:
RFE/RL Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for this interview, for granting an exclusive interview. And the first question is related directly to your recent activity. You met both presidents and you are in a shuttle diplomacy, you are going back and forth and you are spending your time in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. So, it’s apparently after Vienna and Kiev that there is new hope and I see in your statements for the first time a positive tone. What is the cause for that? Can you explain to us what is happening? Is there something that we don’t know?
U.S. Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick: Sure. First of all, let me thank you for the interview. It’s a pleasure to see you and I am glad we have the opportunity to talk. You know, the two presidents met on November 19 in Vienna and this was the first time they met in several years. And the good news from that is that they did have constructive dialogue and that in a 90-minute conversation, one on one, with no one else present…
RFE/RL: Ninety minutes?
Warlick: Ninety minutes… They were able to talk to each other seriously about the issues and they came out of that, both sides believing that they could work with each other and that there is a way forward. And that was good news for all of us and certainly the good news for the people of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. And what we look forward is to that dialogue continuing, because that’s the way that we can find the way towards peaceful settlement finally. And it really is up to the two presidents. If they have the political will to settle this, to work with each other and find the way forward, then it will happen and the Minsk Group is there to help facilitate the process.
Tamrazian: [There was] an interesting statement after the Vienna meeting. The statement says that both sides, both presidents discussed a broad range of issues. And this is the first time we are hearing something like that. Even during the previous meetings – I am not talking about this pause that they had after 2012 – even the previous meetings with [then Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev mediating the talks, you didn’t have that kind of statement that the presidents discussed a broad range of issues. Will you just tell us, a little bit if possible, what kind of issues are those?
Warlick: Well, of course, this was a one-on-one meeting, so I don’t know all of the facts. But they did speak about the most sensitive issues and they did talk to each other very frankly about what it will take to find a way to a settlement. And that’s constructive. I’m sure they did not agree on everything, but the fact that they had this discussion, that they instructed their foreign ministers to continue the discussion and that they hope to meet early next year is a very positive step.
Tamrazian: Can we say that they went over all these principles that were outlined in Madrid and then, later on, were updated?
Warlick: Well, I don’t know… I’m not sure that they talked about the principles per se, but I do know that they talked about the key issues to finding a settlement. They said they respected each other’s positions and that they believed that they could find a way to a settlement. Now, of course, this needs to be worked out, talked through and that’s why we hope that the presidents will meet again to continue the conversation.
Tamrazian: Mr. Ambassador, what is the most difficult issue during these discussions? Maybe you can describe like… what is the issue that you can say… just a principle in general?
Warlick: Well, as you know there are a number of very difficult issues that need to be addressed. There is a reason that this conversation has been ongoing now for 20 years since the ceasefire. These are difficult issues, but, in fact, I believe that both sides can find a way forward that, in fact, helps both sides, that both sides can see a way forward to a settlement that, in fact, no one loses and everyone gains. And with any negotiation that is what we hope for. Not that people – either the people of Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia, or Azerbaijan – make sacrifices. No, we are not asking that. What we hope is that the sides, all parties will find it in their interest to have a durable, peaceful settlement to this longstanding conflict.
Tamrazian: Most experts, I think, and also media always focus on, maybe, two issues. First of all, as you describe in your statements, as it is being written in these principles of the settlement, that return of occupied territories that Armenian forces are now controlling. The other issue is the referendum, that Nagorno-Karabakh can hold its own referendum and decide on their own fate – whether they want to be independent, within Azerbaijan or with Armenia. These are two most difficult issues. Am I getting closer?
Warlick: Yes, of course, these are very important issues, but let me add one more for you and that is one of trust and understanding. What strikes me is when I am in Baku, when I am in Yerevan and also when I am in Nagorno-Karabakh I find these are good people, all sides. And I understand this – there is a deep mistrust, distrust among all the parties. And I hope that we can find a way, and this is on the people-to-people level, this is not government-to-government and high policy, that I hope Armenians, Azerbaijanis, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh can come to see one another as real people and the human side of this. And I do believe that, you know, on all sides these are good, honest people. You know, these are the people that want the best for their families, for the future, they want peace and prosperity.
Tamrazian: And they don’t want war…
Warlick: No one wants war. That’s the thing. And we are in a situation now when there is neither peace nor war. The people deserve better than they have now, and finding a way to a durable settlement is the way. As I’ve said to others, this could bring a new era of prosperity in the region, this is a conflict that can be resolved, and I truly hope that political leaders can find a way for the sake of the people. It strikes me that there is a generation, a young generation that is growing up in Azerbaijan and Armenia and, of course, in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tamrazian: That haven’t seen each other…
Warlick: They’ve never seen each other, they’ve never talked to each other, they don’t know one another and all they hear and see from each other is what is in the media. Unfortunately, that gets distorted and misinterpreted, and I’d like to see a point where there can be this kind of trust and relationships restored.
Tamrazian: Can you do that?
Warlick: I hope…
Tamrazian: You hope…
Warlick: Well, it’s not up to the Minsk Group, we are facilitators in this process. It’s up to the political leadership to decide that they want to find a settlement.
Tamrazian: Here’s another major issue. You represent the countries that are not necessarily keenly interested in… it’s not high on their agenda, Nagorno-Karabakh is not the first item, it’s second or third or fourth.
Warlick: Well, there are many problems…
Tamrazian: You have to have your presidents’ backing…
Warlick: Well, there are many problems in the world, of course. Look around and there are many, many news stories that… I agree with you that Nagorno-Karabakh is not on the top of the list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. And certainly for the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh it’s very important. And finding a way to a durable peace is extremely important, and the United States wants to help. Look, we want to work through the Minsk Group, we are committed to this format and finding a way. Is there anything that the United States can do on a bilateral basis as well? We stand ready, and I could say that we could have a very good relationship with Russia, with France and the European Union, that we want to find a way forward here, and we would like to find a durable settlement…
Tamrazian: Can I talk about that a little bit more?
Tamrazian: You always keep saying – not only you, the other sides as well – that we have really… you know… this is a unique situation, Nagorno-Karabakh, this is perhaps one of the few places where there is understanding between Russia and the United States and we cooperate here, there is not a single issue that we can argue about, so there is complete understanding. Is that true? Is that the case? There is a certain portion of skepticism in the Armenian society and other societies as well, because you can’t have really complete understanding in one issue and be so different on others.
Warlick: There I disagree because, in fact, we work very well with the Russians on many issues. And, you know, look at how we have cooperated on issues around the world. My last job was working on Afghanistan and there was another issue where we do, in fact, work very closely and see eye to eye. But on Nagorno-Karabakh there is no question. Together with my Russian colleague, my French colleague, who I know also speaks and, you know, works closely with the European Union, we do see eye to eye and we want to move together as a team to find a way and hope to facilitate a settlement and that’s also what the parties want.
Tamrazian: Another question, you spend most of your time… do you spend a lot of time in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Warlick: A lot.
Tamrazian: I should say, for example, you recently had around a two-hour talk with [Nagorno-Karabakh leader] Bako Sahakian, if I’m not mistaken, correct me if I am wrong. And you talked with the leaders. But recently you added another group, members of civic society, that’s an interesting part of it. Can you tell us a little bit more why you spend so much time in Nagorno-Karabakh, is there something new?
Warlick: I always look forward to traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh and meeting with people there, to hearing their views. And I would say that the Minsk Group listens carefully and we want to take their views into account. On this trip it was a good opportunity to meet with civil society and to hear their views. And the Minsk Group should be open, we should hear from not just the political leaders at the very top, but we should also be open to hearing from the people. And it’s not just in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but it’s also in Yerevan, in Baku. We should listen to what the people have to say and the way forward that they believe and their concerns and this was a good opportunity in Nagorno-Karabakh to hear from them. And this was the first time that I have met with them, but I can assure you that it won’t be the last.
Tamrazian: You were also talking to the civil society in Azerbaijan, right?
Warlick: I am open to hearing from and talking to everyone. And I think that’s important to us.
Tamrazian: And you also attended the funeral of [Armenian President] Serzh Sarkisian’s father.
Warlick: I wasn’t there, unfortunately, for the funeral itself…
Tamrazian: In Stepanakert….
Warlick: But I did have the opportunity to call the widow of the president’s father and express my condolences to her and, of course, my deepest sympathies go to the president and to his family and to the people of Armenia at this loss. I saw the president shortly after the loss of his father, he was very gracious to meet with us at the time that I know he was in mourning, and I expressed my sympathy to the president himself and we wish him and his family all the best, and I have to say that he has a lovely mother.
Tamrazian: So, another issue now that is being discussed in the press both here and in Azerbaijan is the Turkey issue. In your previous statement you said that Turkey may play a positive role in Nagorno-Karabakh and then you issued another statement, you talked to the Armenian media, saying that Armenian-Turkish relations have nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh, but again you said that Turkey might play a positive role. Can you just clarify that? What was your statement?
Warlick: Of course, let me make clear about this. The Minsk Group has a mandate from the countries of the OSCE to work on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to work with all of the parties. And there is no linkage here with Turkey and its regional relations. Our job is to focus on facilitating a peaceful settlement. And I just want to be very clear about that. At the same time, Turkey is a neighbor, and we understand that Turkey, as a neighbor, of course, plays a role in the region. Turkish-Armenian relations are important and we welcome the visit of the foreign minister here on a bilateral basis to talk through regional issues, and we hope that those talks on a bilateral basis with Armenia, we hope that they were productive and will be productive in the future.
Tamrazian: Mr. Ambassador, have you met with [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahemt] Davutoglu at all?
Warlick: I have not, no.
Tamrazian: You are having meetings with Turkish officials, aren’t you? I mean not only you but also the other co-chairs.
Warlick: You know as the Minsk Group… Let me say that as the Minsk Group we are open to hearing from everyone as I said…
Tamrazian: I remember at some point there were some channels with Iran…
Warlick: Well, I can’t speak to that because at the present time no, there is no channel with Iran, but I would say that as the Minsk Group we are open to hearing from everyone, from countries in the region, from members of the OSCE, from civil society, we should be receptive and we should be in a listening mood, anything that we can do to facilitate a durable settlement, we should pursue.
Tamrazian: And also we hear from Turkish officials, some of them even deny the statements, for example, suggesting that if Armenia returns two territories, we are ready to open up the border with Armenia, start to facilitate diplomatic relations with them. What do you think about that?
Warlick: Well, you need to talk to Turkey about that and pursue those ideas with them. As I said in the Minsk Group we are not here to make decisions, we are not here to put forward and argue for a particular approach, we are here to facilitate a settlement, and I think you should pursue that with the appropriate party.
Tamrazian: My last question is about your diplomatic career. We know that you served in a lot of capacities, in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, you’ve been on a U.S. mission there. Secretary of State John Kerry, when talking about you, said that you are a skilful diplomat and you can make a difference. And we know that there were a lot of very skilful diplomats that were co-chairs [of the Minsk Group] in these talks and they tried, they worked hard, but they didn’t succeed. I can remember Carey Cavanaugh, Steven Mann, I can remember Matthew Bryza, and many others, Rudolph Perina, and they really did a great job, but, you know, they couldn’t do anything. How are you going to make a difference here? We just want to know that.
Warlick: Thank you for that. You know, we have had very many skilled diplomats who were working on this, but it’s not a question of skilled American, or Russian or French diplomats, it is the question of political will of the leaders. And if we could help them find a way, that’s why we are here. And that’s why I am here. I have a background that I hope can help to facilitate a settlement. I look forward to working with all the parties.
Tamrazian: And one more question about Lady Gaga. We’ve seen your photo with her. Is there anything common between you and Lady Gaga? Can you tell us a little bit more, because a lot of people were fascinated by seeing these pictures.
Warlick: First of all, thank you for following me on Twitter. And I hope that all of your audience will follow me as well. Well, of course, I had the opportunity to meet Lady Gaga. Everyone knows that she is a fantastic entertainer, but I don’t think people know that she is also a very good person. And I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her just like this. And, you know, I found her to be not only a great entertainer, but a truly good human being and a person that you can sit down with and talk to and relate to, and probably your audience doesn’t appreciate that, but when you see her in person…
Tamrazian: She has a lot of fans here and a lot of people like her.
Warlick: I hope she can come to Yerevan and she can do a great job.
Tamrazian: Do you like rock music?
Warlick: If you look back on my Twitter, you’ll see me with some other musicians. I don’t pretend to be anything other than a great fan of rock music and I hope to have the opportunity in the future to put more photos in Twitter.
Tamrazian: We’ll look forward to [seeing] that. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
Warlick: Thank you.
Tamrazian: Thank you very much for this interview.
Warlick: Thank you.