By Emil Danielyan
The United Sates will be more sympathetic to Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after Friday’s negotiations in Washington between Presidents George W. Bush and Ilham Aliev, a senior aide to the Azerbaijani leader said over the weekend.
“The U.S. president followed the [Karabakh] issue very attentively and inquired about it,” Novruz Mammadov, head of the foreign affairs department in Aliev’s administration, told Azad Azarbaycan television, commenting on the talks. “I think that following the meeting, we will observe certain changes in the U.S. position on the peace talks, that's to say positive steps to resolve the conflict.”
Mammadov did not specify what those changes will be, saying only that Washington “will from now on provide Azerbaijan with strategic support in all areas.”
Bush and Aliev made scant reference to the Karabakh conflict as they briefly spoke with reporters following their talks at the White House. The U.S. president mentioned it in passing, saying that “relations with Armenia” were on the agenda of the “candid discussion” along with issues such as Iran’s controversial nuclear program and oil-rich Azerbaijan’s “very important role” in energy security.
Aliev, for his part, said he briefed Bush on “the latest status of the negotiations and expressed my hope that a peaceful settlement of the conflict will happen and will serve to the peace and stability in the whole region.”
It is thus not clear if the two leaders reached any agreements on U.S.-led international efforts to get the conflicting parties to cut a framework peace deal on Karabakh before the end of this year. The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hope that Aliev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian will again meet early this summer and try to achieve a breakthrough.
In separate comments made outside the White House, Aliev reiterated that Azerbaijan will not compromise on its territorial integrity for the sake of Karabakh peace. Other top Azerbaijani officials have complained recently that the mediators are not pushing for restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. “America should understand … that the Azerbaijani state will not only disagree with a partition of the lands, but also prevent it,” Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said last month.
The Minsk Group’s most recent peace plan, discussed by Aliev and Kocharian in France last February, reportedly calls for the holding of a referendum in Karabakh that would almost certainly legitimize its secession from Azerbaijan. The peace formula seems largely acceptable to Yerevan. But Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership has expressed serious misgivings about the idea.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister appeared to have tried to placate the Karabakh Armenians during a two-day visit to Stepanakert late last week. "I do not know what the political status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will be like, but I know for sure what it will not be like. That is, Nagorno-Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan,” Oskanian declared at a meeting with students of Karabakh State University on Friday.