Karabakh Cannot Remain Under Azeri Control Asserts Oskanian

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Thursday Armenia would submit new proposals to solve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but would exclude returning the region to Azeri control.

"To leave Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan is unacceptable and therefore negotiations over its status should begin from a clean sheet of paper so that there are no limits from the very start," Oskanian told a news conference.

Oskanian said Armenia would advocate a so-called "package approach" to OSCE mediators during their next round of shuttle diplomacy in Armenia–Azerbaijan–and Karabakh from May 13 to May 16.

Under a "package approach," Karabakh forces would withdraw from some Azeri territories simultaneously with decisions on the region’s future status and other issues.

Azerbaijan rejected such an approach in the past–calling instead for a step-by-step plan under which Karabakh forces would give up some Azeri territories before the region’s status was decided.

Oskanian’s commen’s seemed to indicate a hardening of Armenia’s position since Robert Kocharian was elected Armenian president in March.

Vafa Gulizade–top foreign policy adviser to Azeri President Haydar Aliyev–said his country would only accept a solution under which Karabakh remained Azeri.

"Any plan which does not leave Karabakh in Azerbaijan is unacceptable. This is an affront not only to Azerbaijan but to the OSCE and the whole international community as well," he told Reuters in the Azeri capital Baku.

Oskanian accused Azerbaijan of trying to use its new-found untapped Caspian Sea oil reserves–in which foreign firms have pledged to invest billions of dollars–to try to force Armenia into an agreement.

"Oil can have a positive impact and a negative impact. Until now Azerbaijan has used it to put pressure on Armenia to solve the conflict in a one-sided way in its own favor," he said.

Azeri President Haydar Aliyev has said he is ready to build an oil pipeline through Armenia if it agreed to concessions to end the Karabakh conflict–which has cut Armenia’s key trade routes and seriously damaged its economy.

Oskanian met on Tuesday with representatives of the Armenian community of Germany and presented the principles of Armenia’s new political leadership regarding the Diaspora–double citizenship–and foreign and domestic issues.

Radio Liberty reported that on Wednesday Armenia’s delegation met with Mr. Spanger–German minister for economic cooperation and development. The ministry led by Spanger renders economic assistance to developing countries in the form of free subsidies and special loans. However–the ministry has provided more aid to Georgia and Azerbaijan than Armenia–and among the aims of the Armenian delegation was to restore the balance–offer new programs and activate relations with that ministry.

The same source reported that Oskanian also held a meeting at the German Foreign Policy Council public organization which enjoys great influence on Germany’s foreign policy. The meeting was held behind closed doors.

Radio Liberty reported that "a very candid conversation took place and Oskanian made a brilliant impression. Armenia’s new approaches in the matter of the Karabakh settlement had not been known thus far and Armenian foreign ministry representatives considered that discussion extremely effective."

At a press conference held following the meeting Oskanian hailed the active and effective role Russia plays in the settlement of Karabakh conflict. He said Russia and Armenia are connected with friendly and historical ties–which define close cooperation between the two states.

He also pointed out that Russia is one of the main mediators trying to untie a knot of contradictions between Yerevan and Baku in the Karabakh issue.

The foreign minister said Armenia intends to "apply a combined approach to the crisis," saying it is working out a certain "package of offers without preliminary conditions–which have real chances to develop into a compromise."

Touching upon a possible role of the world community and the possibility of sending to Nagorno-Karabakh international peacekeeping forces–Oskanian said he did not see "grounds for stepping up force in the region before a serious progress in the settlement of the conflict is reached."

According to him–a ceasefire agreement–signed more than four years ago–"is–on the whole–observed."

Focusing on the Commonwealth of Independent States–Oskanian opined that the principle of rotating chairmanship–adopted at the recent CIS summit in Moscow–"has been the main step forward in the development of cooperation within CIS."

He said Armenia will seek to boost cooperation with CIS member-states and develop integration in the post-Soviet era.

Oskanian said–"the Armenian government intends to make every effort to create in the republic a favorable investment climate and attract investmen’s–in particular from Germany–into small and medium-sized businesses."

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