In a statement issued on their arrival in the Armenian capital, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said they will also visit Stepanakert and Baku to discuss “the key remaining unresolved issues” in their basic principles of a Karabakh settlement.
The diplomats began their latest round of shuttle diplomacy with separate meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. Official Armenian sources reported no details of the talks. The presidential press service said only that they discussed preparations for Sarkisian’s “possible meeting” with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the October 8 summit of former Soviet republics in Chisinau, Moldova.
The mediators hope that the two leaders will overcome their differences over the proposed basic principles. The troika made unpublicized changes in those proposals in July in the hope of facilitating the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework agreement.
Azerbaijan -- Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, in Baku, 26May2009
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Yerevan and Baku are as close to cutting a peace deal as never before. Davutoglu claimed that a team of OSCE experts is now visiting the Armenian-controlled Lachin district to delineate an internationally recognized land corridor that would link Karabakh to Armenia proper in the event of a peaceful settlement. He said they plan to complete the “technical work” in time for the Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting.
The information was confirmed by an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry but flatly denied by a senior aide to Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakian. Speaking to RFE/RL, the Karabakh official, David Babayan, also said in that regard that the Stepanakert government continues to consider the entire Lachin district an integral part of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The future of the Azerbaijani district occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in 1992 was one of the sticking points that prevented the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord under Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian. While being ready to ensure Armenian pullout from most of the strategically important area, Kocharian insisted that the remaining land corridor be formally incorporated into Karabakh or at least have the same interim status as the disputed enclave. The Sarkisian administration’s position on the issue is not known.
Official Baku reiterated on Thursday that it is ready to guarantee unfettered communication between Armenia and Karabakh but wants the Lachin corridor to remain an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. “We can not accept unilateral use of Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia,” the APA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov as saying. “The Lachin corridor will remain Azerbaijani territory even if it is given to Armenia for use.”
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, Turkey’s “Hurriyet Daily News” newspaper reported on Thursday that Aliyev and Sarkisian have already made progress in determining “the width and status of the Lachin corridor.” “The deadlock is over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, but hopes are running high for a final settlement,” it said.
The paper also said Ankara has deliberately made sure that its agreements with Yerevan on the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations are signed after the planned Armenian-Azerbaijani summit. It said the Turkish side feared that Sarkisian would otherwise sit down with Aliyev “in a more advantageous position.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated that his government will not rush to establish diplomatic relations and reopen Turkey’s border with Armenia without a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process. The Armenian side, for its part, maintains that Karabakh has not been on the agenda of its fence-mending talks with the Turks.
“The finalized [Turkish-Armenian] agreements do not contain even a hint of precondition, especially on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution,” Nalbandian said during public hearings held in the Armenian parliament on Thursday.
The Minsk Group co-chairs also seemingly sought to allay widespread fears in Armenia that Yerevan has pledged to make more concessions to Azerbaijan as part of its landmark deal with Ankara. “The Co-Chairs would also like to reiterate the points made separately by each of our governments that the Minsk Group negotiations are a separate process that should move forward along its own rationale, without preconditions, without any linkages, within a reasonable timeframe, and without imposed acceleration or delay,” read their statement.