By Emil Danielyan and Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has implicitly dismissed speculation that he and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian are about to cut a peace deal that will formalize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan's position remains unchanged. I repeated this here today. Nagorno-Karabakh will not part with Azerbaijan today, tomorrow, in 10 or 15 years,” Aliev told his cabinet in remarks broadcast by the Azerbaijani radio station ANS on Wednesday. “During my presidency I will never sign an agreement reflecting this.”
Aliev was responding to opposition claims that he has already resigned himself to the loss of Karabakh and is ready to recognize Armenian control over the region in exchange for the liberation of Azerbaijani territories surrounding it. “Provocative remarks by some political forces should not confuse the Azerbaijani people,” he said, according to the ANS report monitored by BBC. “Opinions expressed by the opposition circles about the adoption of certain decisions on the Karabakh problem are unfounded.”
“First, no decision has been taken. Second, I wonder where they have got this information from. What are these lies for?” he added.
According to Armenian and Azerbaijani press reports, the conflicting parties have been discussing a peaceful settlement that would culminate in an referendum of independence in Karabakh in 10-15 years from now. Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would almost certainly vote to reunify with Armenia proper.
Aliev stopped short of explicitly denying that the referendum option is on the table. He spoke ahead of yet another visit to Baku and Yerevan by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The mediators are due to discuss final preparations for Aliev’s potentially decisive meeting with Kocharian which is scheduled to take place in Paris on February 10-11.
In a Wednesday interview with RFE/RL, the group’s U.S. co-chair, Steven Mann, reiterated the international community’s hopes for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict this year. “We have reached a point where we have to make the transition from negotiation to decision,” he said, adding that the process is “moving in the right direction.”