The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group have ended yet another tour of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone with no signs of progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by them.
The mediators did not meet with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev or Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov before wrapping up the trip in Baku late on Monday. Aliyev, accompanied by Mammadyaorv, began an official visit to China as they were received by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the troika said the main purpose of its latest visit was to “review the situation” in Karabakh as well as the Armenian-controlled Kelbajar and Lachin districts sandwiched between the disputed territory and Armenia. “In travelling through these areas, they saw signs of improvements in infrastructure, but could not observe any indications that the size of the population had changed in recent years,” the statement said.
It was an apparent response to Azerbaijani complaints about the resettlement of Armenians in those districts. Several dozen Armenian settlers confronted the mediators in Lachin on Saturday to protest against their calls for the eventual return of these and other districts surrounding Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
The statement described the Minsk Group co-chairs’ meetings in Yerevan, Stepanakert and Baku as mere “courtesy calls.” “In their meetings, they discussed elements of the peace process, and stressed that the basis of a lasting settlement remains those elements outlined in statements by the Presidents of the co-chair countries from 2009 to 2013,” they said, referring to the Basic Principles of Karabakh peace proposed by the United States, Russia and France.
The mediators travelled to the region just a week after criticizing the conflicting parties in another statement devoted to the 20th anniversary of a ceasefire agreement that stopped the Karabakh war. “The sides have shown little willingness to … make the political decisions necessary for progress in this peace process,” they said.