Vollebaek Says Karabakh Should Join Direct Negotiations

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–There is no need for new proposals on the Karabakh settlement–OSCE Chairman in Office–Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek said–pointing out that "there are quite a number of proposals on the table." Responding to journalists’ questions following his meeting with President of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic Arkady Ghoukassian in Yerevan September 16–Vollebaek found it difficult to single out the most important of these proposals. He only stressed that much is still to be done before any measures are taken. Vollebaek stressed the importance of the conflicting parties’ willingness to compromise. He expressed optimism that "we will have concrete results before the Istanbul Summit."

The OSCE Chairman in Office laid special emphasis on the resumption of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the meeting of the two countries’ defense ministers. "The OSCE fully supports bilateral contacts–but both the Minsk Group and the OSCE are ready to join the process as soon as the parties are ready for it," he said–stressing that eventually Karabakh representatives must also joint the process.

In his turn–Ghoukassian pointed out that "the sooner Nagorno Karabakh joins the negotiations–the sooner the Karabakh problem will be solved." Responding to Vollebaek’s question concerning the particular stage at which Karabakh’s participation in the negotiating process is advisable–the Karabakh president said: "Karabakh should have been allowed to participate from the very first day."

President Ghoukassian also reported that during his meeting with the OSCE delegation–the issue of the Karabakh defense minister’s participation in the meeting of the Armenian and Azeri defense ministers was discussed.

Presenting Karabakh’s position on the peace proposals–Ghoukassian mentioned only one of them–the proposal on the common state. At the same time–he stressed that today the "common state" is nothing but a term–and its contents must be determined during the negotiations. "I do not think that there is any need for new proposals–and–perhaps–really new proposals are impossible to make," the president said.

As for the formula "more than self-government–less than independence," President Ghoukassian stated: "We will never renounce our independence–we will fight to defend our independence. Our independence is not a subject for discussion. Our independence will bring stability in the region–that is–if anyone tries to restore our status quo–it is a way to war. Our independence has ensured both the armistice and stability in the region–and potential economic progress. This is a fact–and we must not destroy what has ensured stability without having specific ideas of what we are going to construct. That is–the current balance must be retained until the problem is finally solved," President Ghoukassian said.

The Karabakh president re-affirmed that Karabakh’s concessions depend exclusively on Azerbaijan’s concession–and these can be determined only during negotiations. At the same time he pointed out that Karabakh’s position on the issue of territories has remained unchanged since 1991–when Karabakh declared its independence–and will remain the same. The matter concerns the territories that were not part of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian said that Armenia is ready to expand the framework of its participation in the OSCE activities–when receiving Vollebaek’s delegation Thursday.

Stressing the importance of the opening of an OSCE office in Yerevan–the president hoped for the move to further the development and deepening of relations between Armenia and the OSCE.

The sides reportedly discussed the Karabakh conflict resolution–as well as a number of other issues of regional concern. The sides referred to the need for ironing out the existing differences as soon as possible in terms of valuable cooperation in the region. Vollebaek underlined that the Karabakh resolution still remains a pivotal trend in OSCE’s activities. Describing as a major progress the direct dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan–as well as different level contacts–he hailed the readiness of the sides to find mutually acceptable solutions. The sides exchanged views on the upcoming summit of the OSCE in Istanbul.

Also discussed was the exchange of POWs. "Armenia is ready to show good will and release POWs," Kocharian stated.

Some discussion also turned to human rights issues and freedom of conscience. The Armenian president stressed that Armenia is steadily moving along the way of democratization in society.

Vollebaek also met privately with Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian. After the meeting he expressed the opinion that the next session of the UN General Assembly will enable the conflicting parties to hold a meeting and discussion. The OSCE Chairman in Office expressed optimism that these meetings will be effective.

Minister Oskanian emphasized the importance of opening the OSCE office in Yerevan and expressed optimism that it will promote relations between Armenia and the OSCE.

The sides also addressed the OSCE summit to be held in Istanbul–Turkey–in November.

In conclusion–the sides signed a Memorandum on Understanding between the OSCE and the Republic of Armenia.

Vollebaek and his party also visited the Mother See of St. Etchmiadzin on September 16 where they were received by Locum Tenens Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian.

His Holiness presented the history of the St. Etchmiadzin Cathedral–which is one of the most ancient Christian Holy Sees in the world as well as the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Presenting the goal of his visit–Vollebaek expressed satisfaction with his meetings in governmental circles–in particular–with the discussions of the Karabakh problem.

His Holiness expressed hope that a fair negotiated solution will ultimately be found to the Karabakh problem.

After the meeting the guests got acquainted with the church artworks exhibited at the Patriarch’s Residence

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