Seemingly backtracking on an agreement reached with Armenia and the U.S., Russian and French mediators, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has again spoken out against international investigations of ceasefire violations around Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliyev also made clear over the weekend that Azerbaijan will not agree to the deployment by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of a large number of monitors on the Karabakh frontlines and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The United States, Russia and France have been pressing for these safeguards since the outbreak in early April of the heaviest fighting in the Karabakh conflict zone since 1994. They are keen to prevent another escalation of the conflict that could degenerate into an all-out war.
The issue dominated Aliyev’s meeting with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian that was held in Vienna on May 16 in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir.
In a joint statement issued after those talks, Kerry, Lavrov and Desir said Aliyev and Sarkisian “agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism.” The two presidents also agreed to expand an OSCE mission monitoring the shaky ceasefire, said the statement.
Aliyev contradicted the mediators’ statement, however, when he addressed Azerbaijani military personnel in Baku on Saturday. “As regards a mechanism for investigating [armed] incidents which the Armenians have set as a condition, I think that there is no need for that at this stage,” he said remarks cited by Azerbaijani news agencies.
“What is the point of doing that?” he said. “If the idea is to ‘freeze’ the conflict and take some additional measures on the Line of Contact, then Azerbaijan will certainly not agree to that.”
Baku will allow OSCE investigations only if the Armenians and mediators set “time frames for the liberation of our territories,” added Aliyev. He also made clear that the OSCE will be allowed to deploy only a few more field representatives periodically monitoring the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone.
The OSCE’s existing monitoring mission headed by Andrzej Kasprzyk numbers several officers.
Aliyev had repeatedly rejected the proposed safeguards, strongly backed by Armenia, even before the April escalation, saying that they would only cement the status quo and thus play into the Armenians’ hands.
His latest remarks on the issue came the day after the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group urged both sides to implement the confidence-building measures that were agreed at Vienna and a follow-up Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting held in Saint Petersburg on June 20.
“We also urge progress in substantive talks and on a proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism,” the co-chairs said in a joint statement.
Official Yerevan did not immediately react to Aliyev’s latest rejection of that mechanism.
Aliyev also declared on Saturday that Karabakh must remain a part of Azerbaijan while enjoying “a certain status.” “But that status must not breach the territorial integrity of our state,” he said.
Peace proposals made by the three mediating powers for the past decade effectively pave the way for an eventual international recognition of Karabakh’s de facto secession from Azerbaijan. They call for a referendum on Karabakh’s status that would be held in the disputed territory years after Armenian withdrawal from districts surrounding it.