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Azerbaijan has made clear that it will not allow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to deploy monitors on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines around Nagorno-Karabakh.

“In the absence of withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories, such a deployment would lead only to further consolidation of the status quo and prolongation of the conflict,” the Azerbaijani mission to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna said on Thursday.

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijani agreed to the expansion of a small OSCE team periodically monitoring ceasefire in the Karabakh conflict zone when they met in the Austrian capital in May last year. The talks, hosted by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, came just over a month after the outbreak of the worst fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact” in over two decades.

In a joint statement issued at the time, Lavrov, Kerry and a senior French official said Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisian also pledged to “finalize in the shortest possible time” a mechanism for OSCE investigations of ceasefire violations. None of these two measures backed by Armenia has been put into practice to date.

“Unfortunately, we are faced with introduction of unacceptable elements such as deployment of OSCE observers to the Line of Confrontation, which is a change of modus operandi of [the Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office] and not in line with agreements reached at the level of Presidents,” the Azerbaijani mission said in a statement read out at Thursday’s meeting of the OSCE’s Permanent Council.

“Azerbaijan cannot accept such a dangerous development in the conflict zone as it contradicts the very purpose of entire [OSCE] Minsk process,” it added.

Russia -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) meets with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov during a meeting in Moscow, March 6, 2017
Russia -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) meets with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov during a meeting in Moscow, March 6, 2017

The existing OSCE team led by Andzrej Kasprzyk consists of a handful of officials who regularly travel to Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border to briefly monitor the parties’ compliance with the ceasefire regime. The Azerbaijani statement suggests that the OSCE would like to not only expand the largely symbolic mission but also have the monitors stationed in or around Karabakh.

Baku has been just as reluctant to allow international investigations of truce violations there. The Russian Foreign Ministry revealed in November that Aliyev said “there is no need to investigate armed incidents” at a follow-up meeting with Sarkisian held in Saint-Petersburg in June. Yerevan has since repeatedly accused Baku of walking away from the confidence-building agreements.

The Azerbaijani delegation said the truce safeguards sought by the U.S., Russian and French mediators must be “synchronized with settlement of the conflict.” It claimed that the Armenian side is insisting on these measures in order to avoid “substantive negotiations” on a Karabakh peace.

“Such negotiations are not happening now because they were dealt a very serious blow by Azerbaijan’s April [2016] aggression against Karabakh,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian countered on Friday. “This is why Armenia and the three mediating countries are continuing efforts to create appropriate conditions for advancing the negotiation process.”

“We should keep trying to move this process forward. But first and foremost, we have to prevent the kind of events that occurred in April last year,” Nalbandian told a joint news conference with his visiting Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias.

Armenia -- Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias at a joint press conference in Yerevan, 10 March, 2017
Armenia -- Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias at a joint press conference in Yerevan, 10 March, 2017

Lavrov said on Monday that a “de-escalation of the situation” in the conflict zone is essential for the resumption of “substantive” peace talks. The Russian minister said the two warring sides should therefore take the confidence-building measures agreed at the Vienna summit.

French President Francois Hollande likewise called for the launch of “verification mechanisms” in Karabakh after meeting with Sarkisian in Paris on Wednesday. Hollande said they are needed to “prevent and even sanction actions that might be contrary to peace.”

Speaking after talks with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Lavrov also said that the parties are still far apart on “two or three” elements of a framework peace accord that has been advanced by the Russian, U.S. and French mediators for the past decade. He did not specify them. Nalbandian also refused to shed light on these sticking points.

The proposed deal calls for the liberation of virtually all seven districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in 1991-1994. In return, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to determine the territory’s internationally recognized status in a future referendum.

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