By Emil Danielyan and Kenan Aliev in Prague
A senior U.S. diplomat confirmed on Friday that Armenia and Azerbaijan made further progress at the latest round of negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh but cautioned that the conflict’s resolution is still not a forgone conclusion.
“The atmosphere was good,” Ambassador Stephen Mann, Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, referring to the May 17 meeting in Paris between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. “Each side was highly professional in the way that it approached the talks and I emerged from the Paris meeting with a positive sense.”
Both Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have sounded largely satisfied with the outcome of the talks but say a lot still remains to be done to bridge their differences. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in particular on Monday that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov failed to flesh out agreements reached by their presidents in Warsaw on May 15.
Mann also sounded a note of caution. “Yes, we are closer than we were one year ago but it is always a mistake to think that peace is around the corner,” he said.
Some U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility of a peace agreement being signed in the course of this year. But Mann declined to speculate about any time frames.
“I think it’s a mistake to pin down any specific time for an agreement,” the envoy said. “However, with political will I don’t exclude the fact that we can come much closer towards nailing this down.
“It’s a process and the presidents in Warsaw were very clear in their instructions to their ministers and the co-chairs to push forward on finding a mutually acceptable solution. So I believe the Paris meeting was in that spirit.”
A senior Bush administration official likewise told RFE/RL’s Armenian service earlier this month that there is no need to “rush agreement” at this point.
Mann also confirmed that he as well as the Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group plan to visit Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh in mid-July for further discussions on the subject. He refused to disclose any details of the ongoing peace talks, saying only that both sides have done “some serious and praiseworthy negotiating.”
“Achieving a peace is still a very difficult task, but I absolutely believe that it is a task that is possible to achieve,” he said.