The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have made no progress towards a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh during what the Azerbaijani side described as “tough” talks held in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava late on Wednesday.
According to international mediators, they only agreed to meet again early next year “to intensify negotiations on the core issues of a peaceful settlement.”
Armenia’s Zohrab Mnatsakanian and Azerbaijan’s Elmar Mammadyarov, who met the sidelines of an annual ministerial conference of OSCE member states, exposed lingering disagreements between the conflicting parties in their public statements made on Thursday.
“My meeting yesterday with my Armenian counterpart lasted for three and a half hours,” Mammadyarov said at the conference. “These were quite tough negotiations. Unfortunately, we still have unresolved problems.”
Mnatsakanian did not comment on the outcome of the talks in his speech at the gathering. Instead, he charged that further progress in the peace process is hampered Azerbaijan’s “maximalist positions” and “preconditions”
The Armenian minister pointed to an official Azerbaijani “memorandum” outlining Baku’s position on the Karabakh settlement which was circulated at the Bratislava conference.
The document demands “immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” It also says that Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population can only be granted “the status of self-rule … within Azerbaijan.”
By contrast, Mnatsakanian insisted on Karabakh residents’ right to “maintain and determine a status outside the jurisdiction, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”
“Azerbaijan must assume direct commitment to recognition of the right to self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh by way of legally binding free expression of the will of the people living in Nagorno-Karabakh, the outcome of which should have no limitation,” he said.
“The government of Armenia will never engage in any activities which can violate the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to freely determine their political status or can deprive them of the ownership of this process,” he added.
The United States, Russia and France, the three world powers co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group, have repeatedly stated that Karabakh’s internationally recognized status should be determined through a “legally binding expression of will.” This is one of the main elements of their so-called Madrid Principles of the conflict’s resolution first put forward over a decade ago.
The proposed plebiscite would be held after the liberation of virtually seven districts around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast which were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and senior U.S. and French diplomats attending the Bratislava conference reaffirmed this peace formula in a joint statement on the Mammadyarov-Mnatsakanian meeting issued on Thursday.
“We welcome the intention of the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to meet again in early 2020 under Co-Chair auspices to intensify negotiations on the core issues of a peaceful settlement and to facilitate further talks at the highest level,” read the statement.
“The Co-Chair Heads of Delegation stress once again that the status quo is unacceptable and there can be no military solution to the conflict,” it said. “We therefore call on the sides to engage in good faith substantive negotiations without artificial delays or conditions.”
The mediators also noted a significant decrease in ceasefire violations in the conflict zone and called on the parties to take “additional concrete humanitarian and security measures.” Those include the expansion of a small OSCE mission monitoring the ceasefire regime along the Karabakh “line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Mnatsakanian reaffirmed Yerevan’s strong support for that.
Lavrov met with Mammadyarov and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku earlier this week. After those talks he spoke of “possibilities of achieving a compromise” on Karabakh.
Lavrov also expressed hope that his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts will issue a joint statement with the mediating powers as a result of the Bratislava meeting. The resulting statement was signed only by the Russian, U.S. and French officials.