By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Thursday that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov will likely meet this month to see if there is any chance of kick-starting the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process after the collapse of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
“If I said that it could happen tomorrow I wouldn’t exaggerate,” he said, referring to the meeting. “It could happen very soon, it could happen at the end of this month. Everything depends on the co-chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group].”
Mammadyarov likewise said earlier this week that he is “awaiting news from the co-chairs.”
The American, French and Russian mediators have yet to announce their next steps. The failure by Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan to reach any agreements during talks in Bucharest on Sunday and Monday dealt a serious blow to their efforts to settle the Karabakh conflict this year. In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Minsk Group troika insisted that “2006 remains the favorable window” to achieve Karabakh peace.
“That window is still open,” agreed Oskanian. “One should not rule out any development.”
“As they say, hope is the last thing you lose. So one has to hope that there will be an agreement on at least the basic principles [of a peace accord],” he added vaguely.
According to Oskanian, the Bucharest talks collapsed over the same stumbling block that precluded a breakthrough in the previous Armenian-Azerbaijani summit held at the Rambouillet castle near Paris on February 10-11. “The issue which the presidents discussed and tried to solve is very complicated indeed,” he told a news conference. “This was the same issue which was put before the presidents at Rambouillet. It wasn’t solved then and it wasn’t solved now either.”
Oskanian did not go into details, saying only that the mediators came up with unspecified “new approaches” to the Karabakh dispute at Bucharest. He also said Azerbaijan’s recognition of the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination is a key condition for a peaceful settlement.
Aliev maintains, however, that he will never agree to Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian indicated on Wednesday he believes this was the main reason for the Bucharest fiasco. He warned that Baku is “losing its chance to resolve the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means.”
A senior aide to Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian said, for his part, that he is not surprised with the outcome of the Bucharest talks. “The parties’ positions on the issue are still very different,” Arman Melikian told RFE/RL.
“Azerbaijan must recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. But it shows no signs of taking positive steps in that direction,” he said.
Oskanian, meanwhile, confirmed that his talks with Mammadyarov should clarify whether it would make sense for Aliev and Kocharian to meet again later this year. “I really don’t know [if the two presidents will meet in 2006],” he said. “We left Bucharest without agreeing on when the next meeting will take place. The only agreement was that if the co-chairs feel the need for a meeting of the foreign ministers, the president will have no problem with that.”