Richard Hoagland, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, announced late on Wednesday that another career diplomat will replace him next week as Washington’s chief mediator in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
The new envoy, Andrew Schofer, has previously held a senior position in the U.S. mission to the Vienna headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He will formally start performing his new duties on Monday.
Speaking to Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists in Washington, Hoagland insisted that Schofer’s appointment does not indicate any change in U.S. policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Hoagland was named by the State Department to serve as Minsk Group co-chair “on an interim basis” in late December. He replaced another career diplomat, James Warlick, in that position.
As well as announcing Schofer’s appointment, Hoagland publicized the six key elements of a framework Karabakh peace accord which has been advanced and repeatedly modified by the U.S., Russian and French mediators over the past decade.
The proposed settlement calls for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Armenian forces in 1992-1993. In return, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would determine its internationally recognized status in a future referendum. The conflicting parties continue to disagree on some crucial details of this peace formula.
The statement circulated by Hoagland says that “the sides should commit to determining the final legal status through a mutually agreed and legally binding expression of will in the future.” “The occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijani control,” it adds.
It also says: “There should be a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. It must be wide enough to provide secure passage, but it cannot encompass the whole of Lachin district.”
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Thursday downplayed the significance of Hoagland’s statement. According to the Armenpress news agency, Nalbandian said that the U.S. mediator simply reaffirmed what has for years been stated by the three mediating powers.
Nalbandian also dismissed suggestions that Hoagland’s move was timed to coincide with Wednesday’s talks between the Armenian and Russian presidents, which touched upon the Karabakh issue as well. He said that Hoagland simply gave a farewell interview to Armenian and Azerbaijani reporters.