An Opening On Karabakh?

PRAGUE–The decision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday to name France rather than the United States as the new co-chairman of talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute could provide an opening for progress on the long-deadlocked talks on the status of that disputed territory.

That cautious conclusion reflects three things: the problems that a joint Russian-American chairmanship would have created’sthe current state of play of the conflict itself’sand the possibility that France may be able to introduce some new elemen’s into the talks.

Had the United States succeeded Finland as co-chairman-and American diplomats actively campaigned for the position-Washington would have had to find a modus vivendi with Moscow’sthe other co-chairman of the OSCE-organized negotiations.

To the extent that Moscow and Washington were prepared to act together’sthey might have been able to impose a settlement on the long-simmering conflict. But there are several reasons why their joint leadership of the talks would have been more likely to lead to further deadlock than to a resolution.

On the one hand’seven though Washington and Moscow are committed to the three OSCE principles on the resolution of the conflict-territorial integrity’sself-determination for Karabakh within Azerbaijan’sand international protections for ethnic Armenians living there-the two powers have very different agendas for the region as a whole.

And by introducing the Iranian element into the talks at least behind the scenes and thus seeking to establish a new balance of forces in the post-Soviet Caucasus’sFrance might be able to move them off dead center’salbeit at a price some in Washington and elsewhere might see as too high.

Unfortunately’sthere is also the all too real possibility that precisely these apparent prospects for peace may re- energize those in the region who benefit from conflict or the current standoff. And these forces could block any progress in the talks or even seek to create conditions leading to a resumption of the fighting.

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