Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Monday accused Azerbaijan’s leadership of making misleading statements on his latest meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Pashinian at the same time stood by his largely positive assessment of the peace talks held in Vienna on Friday.
“I think that we have a new atmosphere, a new situation, new messages, new prospects and new understandings in the negotiations, and it is not clear why the Azerbaijani side should avoid or be afraid of accepting these facts,” he said in a live Facebook broadcast.
Pashinian was specifically upset with Aliyev’s claim that “the format of negotiations remained unchanged” as a result of the Vienna summit. The Azerbaijani leader referred to Pashinian’s regular calls for Nagorno-Karabakh’s direct involvement in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which have been rejected by Baku.
“When the Azerbaijani side says ‘the important thing is that the negotiating format remains unchanged’ they mean to imply that they emerged victorious from these discussions,” complained Pashinian. “This is first and foremost incorrect within the framework of the logic which we have agreed upon. Namely, not to look for winners and losers.”
Ever since he swept to power in May last year, Pashinian has repeatedly said that he does not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership and that the latter should therefore become a full-fledged negotiating party.
He again claimed on Monday that this does not mean Yerevan is seeking changes to the negotiating format, arguing that the Karabakh Armenians were directly involved in the peace process in the 1990s. He said he and Aliyev discussed the matter at Vienna but failed to reach any agreements.
“Does this mean that the issue has been removed from [the agenda of] discussions?” the Armenian premier went on. “Of course not. It means that we are going to continue discussions on this topic.”
The Vienna summit, which lasted for over three hours, was Pashinian’s and Aliyev’s fourth face-to-face contact since September. In a joint statement with the U.S., Russian and French mediators, the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers described it as “positive and constructive.” The two leaders discussed “key issues of the settlement process and ideas of substance” and “recommitted to strengthening the ceasefire,” according to the statement.
Pashinian and Aliyev echoed that assessment in their public comments made in the Austrian capital. “The negotiating process has been given new impetus,” the Azerbaijani president told the TASS news agency.
It remains unclear whether two sides made any progress towards a compromise settlement favored by the United States, Russia and France. A framework peace accord drafted by the three mediating powers over a decade ago calls for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts around Karabakh. In return, Karabakh’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population would be able to determine Karabakh’s internationally recognized status in a future referendum.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group reaffirmed this peace formula, also known as the Madrid Principles, in a joint statement issued on March 9. They said “any fair and lasting settlement” must involve “return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.”
Speaking at a March 19 news conference in Yerevan, Pashinian said that the Madrid Principles are open to different interpretations and therefore need to be clarified. He said on Monday that he raised the matter with Aliyev and the mediators at the Vienna meeting.
“Can we say at this point that we received those clarifications and answers to our questions?” added the prime minister. “No because these are very extensive questions, and unfortunately it was not possible to get answers to those questions as a result of a single discussion.”
Nevertheless, Pashinian said, he and Aliyev agreed to continue discussions on the proposed settlement, including through their foreign ministers.