By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian reassured international mediators on Thursday about his overall acceptance of their existing proposals to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian met with the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the fringes of NATO’s summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest. A statement by the Armenian government’s press service said he “reaffirmed Armenia’s readiness to resolve the conflict by peaceful means, within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and on the basis of the document currently on the table.”
The document, which spells out the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, was formally submitted to Baku and Yerevan last November. It calls for a phased solution to the dispute that would delay agreement on the pivotal question of Karabakh’s status. The two sides have reportedly agreed on most of those principles, leading the mediators to express hope that the framework peace deal will be sealed in the coming months.
However, chances for the signing of such agreement appear to have diminished in recent weeks. Azerbaijan has seemingly hardened its position since the March 14 passage by the UN General Assembly of a resolution that upheld its sovereignty over Karabakh and demanded an “unconditional” Armenian withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories. Earlier this week Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accused Baku of seeking to walk away from the Minsk Group plan.
The mediators held a separate meeting with Aliev in Bucharest on Wednesday. Azerbaijani media quoted Aliev’s foreign policy chief, Novruz Mammadov, as saying that the meeting was “quite tense,” with the Azerbaijani leader demanding that the co-chairs explain why their countries voted against the UN resolution.
Nonetheless, the group’s U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, sounded cautiously optimistic about peace prospects as he spoke to Armenian journalists after the talks with Sarkisian. “I think the process is moving forward,” Bryza said, according to the government statement. He expressed hope that Aliev and Sarkisian will hold their first face-to-face meeting shortly after the latter is sworn in as Armenia’s new president on April 9.
The mediators hoped to arrange such a meeting during the NATO summit. But it did not take place because of objections reportedly voiced by the Azerbaijani side. Mammadov claimed at the weekend that Sarkisian needs the encounter to shore up his position at home, rather than to make further progress towards Karabakh peace.