By Liz Fuller
In an exclusive interview on 9 November with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Vartan Oskanian said that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov made “serious progress” during their four rounds of talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian said it is now possible to begin a second stage of talks building on what was achieved earlier, and that Azerbaijan has signalled its readiness for such talks. “Armenia has already given its positive answer and is ready to resume the negotiations [as early as] tomorrow,” Oskanian said.
Since May 2004 Oskanian and Mammadyarov have met four times in Strasbourg and Prague to discuss approaches to resolving the conflict. Whatever provisional consensus they reached was the subject of discussion at a meeting on 15 September between the two countries’ presidents, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Astana, after which Oskanian said there would be an “interval” before the second stage of his talks with Mammadyarov began. Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said in late September that the past meetings with Oskanian had proved “useful” but that further such talks had been postponed “indefinitely” at Armenia’s request.
No details have been divulged of the issues on the table in Prague, and that enforced confidentiality has spawned rumors that Yerevan is prepared to withdraw from either three or five of the seven occupied Azerbaijani districts bordering on Karabakh even before a final decision is reached on the future political status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. On 27 October, the Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement denying such speculation. “Regardless of Azerbaijan’s wishes or statements, Armenia’s focus during negotiations is on the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. All other issues are tangential to the status issue, and Armenia views them only in the context of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the statement said. It further underscored that Yerevan “is interested only in a comprehensive resolution of this issue, and its participation in negotiations is conditional on that approach,” the statement continued. In other words, Armenia wants the final agreement on a solution to the conflict to address, and stipulate a solution to, all disputed issues, and to specify the order and timeframe in which the various points agreed upon will be implemented.
Also in his 9 November interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Oskanian criticized as “a diplomatic error” Baku’s insistence on including on the agenda of the UN General Assembly the issue of the resettlement of Armenian families on territory controlled by Armenian forces. He warned that Azerbaijan should not proceed on the assumption that it can continue negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group while at the same time seeking the assistance of other international organizations in resolving individual issues related to that conflict.
“Either we continue the negotiations within the Minsk Group, trying to reach a solution of the whole problem, or Azerbaijan can take the issue to other instances, seeking separate solutions,” Oskanian said. Should Azerbaijan choose the latter approach, Oskanian said, the Azerbaijani authorities will have to negotiate with the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership. “Today the ball is in [Azerbaijan’s] court,” Oskanian concluded.
But on 10 November Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Metin Mirza rejected Oskanian’s warning that Azerbaijan should not try to launch a parallel mediation effort as an effort to “torpedo” the negotiating process at a juncture when “favorable conditions” had been created for making progress. He inferred that Yerevan is “seriously concerned” by the prospect of the UN General Assembly debate. And he stressed yet again that Baku will not agree to negotiate with the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership.
President Aliyev similarly argued last week that raising the Karabakh issue in other international fora will not jeopardize the ongoing search for a solution under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group, nor does Baku seek to replace the Minsk Group by another mediator, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev said Baku simply wants international organizations such as the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe to “recognize unequivocally that Armenia has occupied part of Azerbaijan’s territory,” and that this “unfair situation” should be corrected. Touring four southern regions of Azerbaijan on 9 November, President Aliyev said that Baku will not sign a formal Karabakh peace agreement until Armenian forces have retreated from the districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh that they currently occupy, ITAR-TASS reported. “We demand with justification that the seized territory be freed and the occupying forces withdraw,” Aliyev said while visiting Astara, where he formally opened a new cargo terminal on the border with Iran.