By Armen Zakarian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian denied on Thursday any “ulterior motives” in his decision not to attend a fresh round of Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks, saying that he was simply too busy to travel to Frankfurt on April 27. He also said the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are tentatively scheduled to meet in Warsaw later this month.
The French, Russian and U.S. mediators were due to hold in Frankfurt more “proximity talks” with Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. They managed to meet only with Mammadyarov.
“My schedule for that day was filled with many meetings [in Yerevan],” Oskanian told journalists. “There were no ulterior motives. We have no problem with meeting the co-chairs and Mammadyarov. We are always ready [to meet them].”
Oskanian said he never promised the mediators to attend the Frankfurt meeting because “the date was unacceptable to me.” “They knew that in advance,” he added.
However, in a joint statement last, the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe did say that they plan to meet with the two foreign ministers in the German city “at the end of April.” The statement came ahead of their separate meetings in London on April 15 with Oskanian and Mammadyarov.
While in Frankfurt, Mammadyarov commented tartly on Oskanian’s absence. “He is probably again ill,” he said, referring to Oskanian’s illness that was the official reason for the cancellation of their March 2 meeting in Prague. The two men have not had face-to-face encounters since then.
“We saw no need for a meeting of the ministers,” Oskanian explained. “The co-chairs didn’t insist on it probably because they too realized that the ministers have done all they could possibly do and that the next step has to be taken by the presidents.”
Oskanian added that Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev are now likely to meet in Warsaw on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit scheduled for May 16-17. He had earlier denied reports that the two leaders could sign a framework peace agreement on Karabakh.
The Minsk Group co-chairs heightened expectations from the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit when they said in their statement that the Karabakh peace process has entered a “sensitive juncture, where a first step towards an agreement … could be at hand.”
Oskanian on Thursday also did not rule out the possibility of a meeting between Kocharian and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow or at the Warsaw summit. “There are no agreements at this point,” he said. “Neither the Armenian nor the Turkish side has applied for such a meeting. We should wait and see.”
"It could be, but nothing is planned," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was reported to say in Ankara.
The first-ever talks between Kocharian and Erdogan would inevitably address the latter’s calls for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would look into the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians and determine if they constituted a genocide. Erdogan formally conveyed the offer to Yerevan in a letter last month.
Kocharian effectively turned it down the offer, suggesting instead that the two governments establish diplomatic relations and set up a commission that would tackle all issues of mutual concern.
Visiting Ankara on Wednesday, a senior U.S. diplomat urged the two estranged countries to reconcile their proposals. "Why not have both?" Laura Kennedy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said.
Citing Turkish “diplomatic sources,” the official Anatolia news agency reported that Ankara is ready to agree to the creation of two Turkish-Armenian commissions made up of scholars and government officials. It said Turkish officials would also support the participation of international scholars in the genocide study.