OSCE to Pressure Azeris to Accept Karabakh Plan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Azerbaijan will come under pressure from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to accept the most recent OSCE plan to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–Armenian and Karabakh officials said on Monday.

The foreign ministers of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said the OSCE’s chairman-in-office–Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek–will likely try to secure Azerbaijan’s approval of the peace proposals during his visit to the region next month. The plan–put forward last November by the OSCE’s Minsk Group–envisages a "common state" between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated disputed region–which broke away from Baku’s’ rule in the late 1980s. The idea has largely been approved by Karabakh’s ethnic Armenia authorities and Armenia proper. Azerbaijan rejected it out of hand saying that its territorial integrity is not guaranteed.

"I think that the main purpose of Mr. Vollebaek’s visit is to try to persuade Azerbaijan to accept the latest [OSCE] proposals," Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told reporters. "As far as we know–the OSCE chairman’s main message will be addressed to Azerbaijan," Oskanian’s Karabakh counterpart–Naira Melkumian–told a separate news conference in Yerevan. She claimed that the plan–drafted by Russian–US and French mediators acting under OSCE mandate–"has not and will not be changed" to accommodate Azerbaijan. Oskanian said Vollebaek’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan is scheduled to begin on April 13.

Peace talks on Karabakh have failed to produce a major progress since a Russian-mediated cease-fire agreement stopped a bitter Armenian-Azeri war in 1994. Baku says it will only agree to give broad autonomy to Karabakh.

Karabakh Armenia’s–backed by Yerevan–want their future relationship with Azerbaijan to be based on an equal footing–which would rule out any administrative "subordination." Karabakh’s Melkumian said the European Parliament took a "very timely and necessary" step earlier this month when it endorsed the Minsk Group’s proposals in a resolution. In her words–a "very serious shift" has occurred over the past year in the international community’s attitude toward the conflict. She said world powers increasingly support a settlement of the decade-long conflict that would avoid what she described as "two extremes" – outright independence and conventional autonomy for Karabakh.

Melkumian said a recent visit by Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian to the United States has revealed that US and Karabakh positions on the issue are "very close."

Ghoukassian met with State Department officials–Congressional leaders and representatives of the influential Armenian-American community during the two-week unofficial trip. She said an "important change" has taken place in Washington’s Karabakh policy since the resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in February 1998..

The ex-president said recently he still believes the Armenia’s should offer more concessions to Azerbaijan. "Recent developmen’s have showed that our policy [toward the conflict] over the past year is bringing positive results," Melkumian declared.

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