Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s foreign ministers pledged to continue looking for ways to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict despite the coronavirus pandemic during a joint video conference with international mediators held late on Tuesday.
“Considering the great challenges now confronting all populations without regard to political boundaries … the Foreign Ministers and the Co-Chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group] expressed the hope that the resolve seen in the global pandemic response will bring a creative and constructive impetus to the peace process,” read a joint statement issued by them.
“The Foreign Ministers and Co-Chairs agreed to remain in close contact and to continue negotiations in person as soon as possible,” it said.
The statement said that the worldwide spread of the virus has delayed not only such talks but also confidence-building “humanitarian measures” previously agreed by the conflicting parties. “Nevertheless, the necessary work to prepare these activities continues,” it stressed.
During the discussion, the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the Minsk Group also renewed their calls for the parties to “strictly” observe the ceasefire in the conflict zone and “avoid provocative actions in the current environment,” according to the statement.
Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov most recently met in the mediators’ presence in Geneva on January 30 for two days of what they called “intensive discussions.” In a joint statement, they said they focused on “possible next steps to prepare the populations for peace” and “principles and elements forming the basis of a future settlement.”
Two weeks later, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev held a brief meeting before participating in a panel discussion on Karabakh held as part of an annual security conference in Munich.
Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the two sides have been actively discussing a peace plan which he presented to Mnatsakanian and Mammadyarov at a trilateral meeting held in Moscow a year ago. Lavrov said the plan calls for a phased settlement that would start with Armenian withdrawal from “several districts around Karabakh.”
Mnatsakanian implicitly denied this at a news conference held in Yerevan shortly afterwards. He insisted that for the last two years Baku and Yerevan have only exchanged views on “some elements” of a possible peace deal.
Mnatsakanian said that any deal must allow the Karabakh Armenians to exercise their right to self-determination through a “free expression of will” that would involve no “limitations.”
Azerbaijan has repeatedly ruled out any settlement that would fall short of restoring Azerbaijani control over Karabakh.
In a joint statement issued in March 2019, the mediators 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.”