New Plan Seems to Take “Package” Approach

Editor’s Note: In the wake of the most recent mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group co-chairmen to Armenia–Karabakh and Azerbaijan–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has published an analysis–in which it attempts to shed light on details of the new peace proposal put forth by the co-chairmanship. Details of the plan have not been discussed by any of the sides involved in the conflict resolution process and RFE/RL does not cite sources or material used in its analysis–excerpts of which appear below. We believe that some of the points made by RFE/RL could become topics for discussion as the Karabakh peace process enters a new stage.

The deadlocked Nagorno-Karabakh peace process has been given a new boost with yet another round of shuttle diplomacy by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mediators from the OSCE’s so-called Minsk Group–led by Russia–the US and France–toured the region earlier this week to propose what they called a "common state" between Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh.

With peace talks proceeding in strict confidentiality–few details of the new proposals are available. But from what the negotiators have told the press in the Azeri and Armenian capitals–the "common state" is to be formed by "two sides," Baku and Karabakh Armenia’s. The plan reportedly avoids reference to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity–so sensitive for the Armenian side. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Wednesday that the plan calls for the two entities to build their relationship by a special agreement to be negotiated later. Oskanian said the current proposals are "much more realistic."

Indeed–the new OSCE plan is substantially different from the previous one–rejected by Armenia and Karabakh. First–it apparently offers a "package" strategy whereby all sticking points–including Karabakh status–are settled by a single framework accord. The OSCE mediators had previously proposed to delay a decision on the status until the last phase of the peace process. Second–the plan contains "unconventional" ideas–favored by the Armenia’s. The latter are ready to forego the disputed enclave’s formal secession from Azerbaijan but rule out Karabakh’s "subordination" to Baku.

In practice–this means Karabakh Armenia’s will likely be allowed to maintain their battle-hardened armed forces and an overland connection with Armenia–run their domestic affairs and possibly enjoy international security guarantees.

That the mediators have gone pretty far in addressing Armenian concerns is evidenced by Azerbaijan’s criticism of the proposed settlement. A key aide to President Haydar Aliyev has been quoted by the media as saying that it does not guarantee restoration of Azeri sovereignty over Karabakh and is not specific enough. If the Minsk Group co-chairs have indeed come up with a Bosnia-type peace deal–Baku will exercise little if any control over the enclave.

Peace would give a final green light to development of Azerbaijan’s oil riches. The unresolved conflict hangs over some $40 billion in contracts Azerbaijan has signed with foreign oil companies–the biggest investment package in the post-Communist world. Top executives from the largest of ten multinational consortia developing Azerbaijan’s offshore fields are expected to announce in early December their choice of the main pipeline route to pump the oil to world markets.

Regardless of where the pipeline will end up–either the Georgian Black Sea or Turkish Mediterranean coast–it will pass just 50 kilometers away from the diving line facing Azeri and Armenian forces.

Some analysts would argue that precisely for the same oil considerations Russia is not interested in a breakthrough on Karabakh before the decision on the main pipeline. Moscow has long been trying to have the bulk of Caspian oil shipped across its territory. Continued instability in the South Caucasus could thus discourage the multinationals from using the region for oil transit.

However–it is not only oil politics that will determine the fate of the OSCE peace initiative. It remains to be seen whether the new plan will be acceptable to the Armenia’s as well. Apart from the status issue–there are other specifics that might cause controversy. Among them is the future of the Lachin corridor–one of the two Azeri districts straddling Armenia and Karabakh. With their insistence on its fully Armenian control–Yerevan and Stepanakert have in the past rejected OSCE offers for the corridor’s international supervision.

In the meantime–the conflicting parties have pledged to "thoroughly consider" the new proposals–mediators said. A Russian OSCE negotiator on Wednesday told reporters in Yerevan that the Minsk Group co-chairs expect their officials response "as soon as possible."

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