Kocharian Sees Chance for Karabakh Peace Downplays OSCE Summit

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian said over the weekend that the latest dialogue with his Azeri counterpart Haydar Aliyev may well lead to a long-awaited settlement of the Karabakh conflict as the two men are best placed to find a compromise peace formula.

He also made it clear that a turning point in the negotiating process should not be timed to coincide with the upcoming summit in Istanbul of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as was suggested by some mediators.

"I am confident that we will find a solution to the problem – the one which I will be able to announce sincerely to our people," Kocharian said in an interview with Armenia’s leading television channels. "In my opinion–after President Aliyev and Robert Kocharian [are gone] it would be much more difficult to find solutions… For instance–I don’t see anybody in Azerbaijan who would enjoy a greater vote of confidence and capacity to implement any decision–any treaty that is really based on mutual concessions. I think that my presence [in the Armenian government] is also important," he said.

"I remember people saying that after my election [as president of Armenia] the war will definitely resume. But what happened was just opposite. We are now much more confident that the cease-fire will hold and there will be peace."

Kocharian argued that the cease-fire regime along the Armenian-Azeri line of contact has already been strengthened as a result of his direct contacts with Aliyev–with the number of soldiers killed on the Armenian side shrinking by half this year.

In Stepanakert–meanwhile–the defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said in a statement on Monday that its armed forces will stage maneuvers on Friday that will last for one week. The statement gave no other details. Military maneuvers were last time held in Karabakh in September 1998 and appear to have a planned character this time as well.

The Armenian and Azeri presidents have met four times in as many months–each time announcing improved prospects for a final peace in Karabakh. No breakthrough has yet been announced though.

"Today we agree or touch on our positions on a number of points in the [peace] document. Even after negotiations within the framework of the OSCE’s Minsk Group resume–agreement on those points will be reached not by [negotiating] teams but the presidents of the two countries," Kocharian said. He added that "at some point" the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will "definitely" join peace talks.

The United States–which is one of the Minsk Group’s three co-chairs–has urged the conflicting parties to come up with a framework agreement on the main principles of the Karabakh settlement before the Istanbul summit.

However–Kocharian objected by saying– "I don’t think that we should make this process conditional on the Istanbul summit. Especially from the geographical point of view–the venue is not very convenient for the Armenia’s. I would prefer to see this happening a bit earlier or later but not in Istanbul."

The previous OSCE summit held in Lisbon three years ago ended in an embarrassment for Yerevan as it found itself alone in opposing a clause in the final document upholding Azeri sovereignty over Karabakh. "I think that there will be no document that could obstruct the peace process like it happened in Lisbon," Kocharian said.

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