By Emil Danielyan
Europe's two leading security organizations have commended Armenia and Azerbaijan for moving closer to ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and urged both nations to build on the progress “as soon as possible.”
In separate statements, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union highlighted fresh hopes for a speedy solution to the Karabakh conflict that have been raised by the latest meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.
“We are encouraged that negotiations in 2006, facilitated by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and supported by the OSCE Chairman in Office, have brought the sides closer to agreement on the basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the foreign ministers of OSCE member states said at the end of a two-day meeting in Brussels.
The statement urged Presidents Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia to “redouble their efforts in the coming year to finalize these basic principles as soon as possible.” Its content was agreed with and signed by the foreign ministers of the two South Caucasus states. OSCE ministers failed to reach a similar agreement on other “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union.
“The EU is encouraged by the active dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a settlement to the conflict,” Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said in a statement issued on behalf of the bloc late on Monday. “We call on both parties to seize the opportunity to make progress without delay,” he added.
Aliev and Kocharian held face-to-face talks for a third time in less than a year on the sidelines of last week’s summit of former Soviet republics in Minsk, Belarus. They indicated afterwards that they made further progress towards a compromise peace accord.
Belgian Foreign Minister Karen De Gucht, the OSCE chairman-in-office who attended the opening session of the Minsk talks, was reported to say that a solution is in sight for Karabakh in the next year. "There is a very good chance that we can (resolve) this conflict in the course of next year," he told a news briefing in Brussels. "We have made really substantial progress, if not a breakthrough."
But speaking to RFE/RL on Monday, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian cautioned against excessive expectations from the next round of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. He indicated that the conflicting parties have yet to fully agree on the main point of the existing international peace plan: a referendum on Karabakh’s status.
“We've got to be very careful about appearing too optimistic,” Oskanian told Reuters news agency in a separate interview.
He said although there has been progress on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, working out its details could prove even more difficult. "That's where the positions are inching closer, but we are not there yet. Once we conclude the document, we have to go into a second layer where we may face fresh problems because discussing details sometimes could prove more problematic than the principles."
Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov were due to discuss their next steps on the fringes of the OSCE conference. But they avoided any face-to-face meetings in the Belgian capital, opting instead for “proximity talks” through the French, Russian and U.S. mediators.
Agreement on Karabakh is further complicated by the forthcoming Armenian parliamentary elections as well as presidential ballots due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008. Analysts doubt that Aliev and Kocharian will risk a domestic nationalist backlash and announce unpopular peace deals ahead of the polls.
(OSCE photo: Gucht and Oskanian speak during the conference.)