By Emil DanielyanForeign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top U.S. officials on Monday to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during a visit to Washington which some Armenian observers believe heralds a fresh U.S. push for its resolution.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher singled out the stalled Karabakh peace process when asked about the agenda of Oskanian’s talks with Powell. “They discussed progress towards settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he told a news briefing.
“They also discussed the possibilities for improving relations between Turkey and Armenia, Armenia's prospects -- and Armenia's prospects for receiving funds under the Millennium Challenge Account,” Boucher added. “We also understand that Foreign Minister Oskanian is meeting today with Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Beth Jones to go into some of these issues in more detail.”
Oskanian was also due to meet with Condoleeza Rice, President George W. Bush’s influential national security adviser, and senior Pentagon officials. Armenian government officials have rarely held such high-level talks in the U.S. capital in recent years, suggesting that his visit carries some urgency. It comes in advance of the June 21 meeting in Prague between Oskanian and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov -- a fact mentioned by Boucher.
The two men have met twice in recent weeks under the auspices of the OSCE’s Minsk Group co-headed by the United States, Russia and France. They have both issued cautiously optimistic statements, with Mamedyarov saying late last month that the peace talks are “intensifying” after a period of stagnation.
Oskanian’s trip to Washington followed an unexpected visit to Yerevan on June 3 by Steven Mann, America’s chief Karabakh negotiator. Mann refused to answer questions from journalists and it was not clear what specifically he discussed with Armenian leaders.
Leaders of the Armenian opposition have since been claiming that the envoy arrived with a new U.S. peace plan based on the so-called step-by-step strategy of resolving the Karabakh conflict. They say the plan calls for the liberation of three of the seven Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh before an agreement on the disputed region’s status. Opposition leaders also say President Robert Kocharian has met recently with the leaders of the three parties making up his coalition cabinet in a bid to win their support for the proposed peace formula.
But the claims were denied on Tuesday by a leading member of one of those parties. “There have been no meetings that discussed the issue of the handover of three districts,” Tigran Torosian of the Republican Party of Armenia told RFE/RL. “It has already been said for many times that those regions guarantee the security of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”
The Armenian aside has insisted, at least until recently, on a “package” peace accord that would settle all contentious issues simultaneously.
(Photo by Armenian embassy in Washington.)