By Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian denied through a spokesman on Monday Azerbaijani claims that he cancelled his participation in a major European conference to avoid a face-to-face encounter with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev.
Aliev and his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili were the sole foreign heads of state attending the conference on European integration held in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava late last week. Armenia was represented by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
“The Armenian president first declared his intention to go to Bratislava,” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev claimed in an interview with an Azerbaijani TV channel over the weekend. “But when Azerbaijan also declared that it will be represented in Bratislava by the president, the Armenian side immediately changed its mind. This shows that the Armenian president is not ready for such a meeting or avoids it.”
However, the Armenian president’s press secretary, Ashot Kocharian, told RFE/RL that participation in the Bratislava conference had never been included on his foreign visits schedule.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders met for the first time in Geneva last December. Little is known about their talks on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Their foreign ministers discussed the issue on the sidelines of the Bratislava forum.
Guliev said he challenged to Oskanian to substantiate Armenian claims that Kocharian and Aliev’s late father and predecessor Heydar had agreed on a framework peace deal during talks in Paris and on the Florida island of Key West three years ago. “I reminded him of his statement and told him to show me the papers,” Guliev said, according to the ATV report monitored by the BBC. “He said that he will send them by fax on his return to Yerevan.”
“I asked whether the papers had been signed. He said he did not have signed papers. I said - if there are no signed papers, then what kind of agreement could we talk about?”
Reacting to the remarks on Monday, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said they only prove the existence of the Key West agreements. “We are glad that Mr. Guliev has at last admitted that there is a written document certifying agreements reached in Paris and Key West even though it has not been signed yet,” ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL. “Had it been signed, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would have already been resolved.”
The Armenian side maintains that Aliev senior scrapped the agreements shortly after returning home from Key West. Baku denies this, saying that no specific deals were cut. But according to the chief U.S. negotiator on Karabakh, Rudolf Perina, the parties were “incredibly close” to a peaceful settlement at the time.
Guliev and Oskanian are scheduled to hold another meeting in Prague next week. The talks will be mediated by Perina and the French and Russian co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Oskanian has said he hopes they will finally clarify whether or not Baku will ever revive the Key West deal.