By Emil Danielyan
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Moscow on Friday for face-to-face peace talks that could be followed by another crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Nagorno-Karabakh, international mediators said on Tuesday.
The senior French, Russian and U.S. diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group made the announcement after talks with the leaders of the two nations. They were in Baku on Monday and are scheduled to meet with the Armenian leadership of Karabakh in Stepanakert on Wednesday in their latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Yerevan, the mediators said Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov will likely hold another round of negotiations next week in an attempt to kick-start the deadlocked peace process.
In the words of Bernard Fassier, the group’s French co-chair, the two ministers will specifically look into the possibility of organizing yet another meeting of their presidents. Fassier and his American and Russian colleagues refused to speculate on the chances of a breakthrough.
“We are not saying that we are on the verge of a grand breakthrough or that the difficult problems have gotten any easier,” said, Matthew Bryza, the U.S. co-chair. “But we do sense a willingness by the sides to think in a deeper way and to look for a way to move ahead.”
Oskanian and Mammadyarov were already scheduled to meet in New York late last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Oskanian effectively cancelled the meeting in protest against the assembly’s decision to discuss the conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union during its ongoing session. Armenia is strongly opposed to any UN involvement in Karabakh talks.
The issue was included on the assembly agenda at the insistence of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova that make up a loose grouping of former Soviet republics known as GUAM. They are expected to submit a relevant resolution to the body this fall.
Bryza indicated that the United States will oppose any GUAM resolutions that would blame the Armenian side and run counter to the main points of a framework peace deal disclosed by the Minsk Group in June. “If the GUAM states put forward a resolution that is not balanced, that is not fair, that is accusatory or simply doesn’t call for a settlement based on the basic principles we’ve articulated, it won’t be helpful and we won’t like it,” he said.
The mediators favor a gradual resolution of the Karabakh dispute that would lead to a referendum on the disputed enclave’s status after the liberation of surrounding Azerbaijani districts controlled by Armenian forces. They made it clear on Tuesday that this formula remains at the heart of their revised peace proposals. “We still believe that our basic principles that we have articulated provide the best hope for a fair, just and lasting settlement,” said Bryza.
Presidents Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia were widely expected to accept those principles as a basis for a more comprehensive peace accord during two rounds of intensive negotiations earlier this year. However, the talks yielded no agreement, all but dashing hopes for the conflict’s settlement before the end of this year.
Aliev has since repeatedly ruled out any settlement that would stop short of restoring Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. He reportedly reaffirmed this stance in an address to the Azerbaijani parliament on Monday. Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying that Baku is under pressure to accept a deal “contradicting the interests of our people.”
“Some forces wonder why the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has still not be solved,” Aliev said, according to the Trend news agency. “This is so because we are not opting for agreements that are not acceptable to us.”
Bryza refused to comment on this, saying that there are discrepancies between remarks attributed to the Azerbaijani leader by various Azerbaijani media outlets.
Aliev was also quoted by Agence France Presse as also pledging to “increase pressure on Armenia.” “Otherwise they are not likely to give back our territories. We must be ready for war," he said, according to the French news agency.
Bryza reiterated in that regard the mediators’ view that “there is no military settlement to the Karabakh conflict.”
(Photolur photo: Fassier, left, Merzlyakov, center, and Bryza pictured after their talks in Yerevan.)