By Emil Danielyan
The United States will soon appoint a new chief negotiator in the long-running international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, official Azerbaijani sources revealed on Wednesday, citing the U.S. ambassador in Baku.
Azerbaijani news agencies quoted Ambassador Reno Harnish as telling Defense Minister Safar Abiev on Tuesday that Steven Mann, Washington’s special representative to the Caspian Sea region, will soon take over as the new U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Harnish said he hopes that the appointment will give new impetus to the stalled Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. No other details were reported.
In his current capacity Mann has for years focused on the development of Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan's Caspian oil and natural reserves by Western multinational companies. He also successfully lobbied on behalf of the U.S. government for the ongoing construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that will pump Azerbaijani and possibly Kazakh oil to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
The multibillion-dollar oil projects, seen as reducing the ex-Soviet states’ dependence on Russia, have been a key motive for the close U.S. involvement in the Karabakh peace process. The Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact around Karabakh lies only several dozen kilometers south of the nearest section of the future pipeline.
Meeting with the U.S. envoy, the Azerbaijani defense chief accused the Armenian side of trying to “obstruct” the $2.5 billion work on the pipeline. Abiev also claimed that rising political tensions in Armenia make a renewed war in Karabakh more likely. “Should the government lose control over the domestic situation, a war may break out,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has not yet officially announced Mann’s upcoming appointment. An Armenian diplomatic source suggested that the information provided by Harnish was not meant for publication by the Azerbaijani government.
The current U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group, Rudolf Perina, has held the post since September 2001. Perina and his Russian and French opposite numbers were due to preside over an important meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers which was scheduled to take place in Prague late last week. The talks were cancelled at Baku’s request.
This was followed by the weekend dismissal of Vilayat Guliev, Azerbaijan’s tough-talking foreign minister. Azerbaijani commentators said Guliev’s replacement, career diplomat Elmar Mamedyarov, will be more pliant to President Ilham Aliev.
(U.S. State Department photo: Steven Mann.)