Oskanian Says Peace Plan Needs ‘Something New’

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–No new proposals were discussed during the latest visit of the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen to Armenia–Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said during the December 13 meeting at the National Press Club. The minister went on to say that the Minsk Group was determined to give a fresh impetus to the negotiating process. "Proceeding from the fact that the most recent proposals are still being rejected by Azerbaijan–they now seem to believe that it’s time to think of something new," he added.

The visit of the cochairmen pursued the only goal of evaluating the situation–as well as to program further steps after consultations with the sides. It was reiterated during the meetings that Armenia’still needed some time to revisit the situation–gain confidence in internal political stability until a serious shift in the Karabakh issue could be achieved. The minister positively assessed the separation of the economic factor during the cochairmen’s visit. At the same time he admitted that there were no concrete practical proposals in that aspect yet; the ideas of furthering the economic factor are simply being declared–which is hailed by Armenia.

Oskanian said that the major obstacle to the resumption of peace talks still remained and the Kocharian-Aliyev meetings had aimed to remove these very obstacle. Stressing that the direct contacts interrupted by the October 27 killings had registered some progress–the minister hoped for the process to be continued and the hurdles to be eliminated in the near future. Oskanian said that the participation of Nagorno Karabakh’s representative in the negotiating process would be ensured as soon as the process gets underway. Negotiations are likely to involve a representative of the Azeri community of Nagorno Karabakh–as it was before–but his status will be lower than that of representatives of the three parties to the conflict–Armenia–Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh–the minister explained.

Armenia has no objection to the principle of territorial integrity in the general context–but Armenia will not recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity as long as the Karabakh problem and the Minsk process exist and until Nagorno Karabakh’s political status is specified. "Armenia will not have any remarks in the general context in any document–but if the matter concerns a separate case and it concerns Azerbaijan–we will oppose a similar formula," the minister noted. He went further to say that Armenia also needs the principle of territorial integrity–since Armenia–as a small country surrounded by "not quite well-wishing states," is one of the most vulnerable states.

Oskanian explained OSCE Chairman-in-Office Knut Vollebaek’s visit to only Baku by the fact that there was no necessity to hold additional consultations with Armenia–as recently in Oslo the foreign minister met with Vollebaek after which he had a telephone conversation with him. "I think it’s time to start a dialogue also with Baku so as to facilitate the dialogue between the presidents," the minister said.

He stressed that the perception of the Nagorno Karabakh problem as one of the key and crucial issues of Armenia’s foreign policies was not the consequence of the policy pursued by one individual or another but was prompted by the current situation–the international community. There are also consequences of the blockades imposed on Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan. The minister admitted that even Armenia’s membership of the Council of Europe was directly or indirectly connected with the Nagorno Karabakh issue. He pointed out that the process of membership acquisition promised well for Armenia. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will present its positive conclusion in late January or early February 2000–and the decision on Armenia’s membership will be discussed at the meeting of this organization’s Ministerial Council in the first half of next year.

If the strained relations between Russia and the United States continue until they are completely severed–Armenia may have to choose between Russia and the US," Oskanian said Monday at the National Press Club within the framework of the Topical Subject program.

He assured the media that Armenia would continue to abide by the principle of complementarity in pursuing its foreign policy–while thinking of ways to create a new security system in the region.

Noting the considerable shifts in Armenia’s internal political situation since the killings on October 27–which also influenced Armenia’s foreign policies–the minister said that the rapidly evolving developmen’s in Chechnya have also made an impact on the countries of the region–causing certain changes in Russia’s relations with Georgia and Azerbaijan. There are also global changes–he said–noting that the relationship between Russia and the United States is now much more strained than ever. Consequently–these very shifts conditioned the visits of Armenia’s foreign minister to Iran and Russia.

Consultations will continue on December 17–in Brussels–where Armenia’s foreign minister will meet with his Turkish and Azeri counterparts to enlist their accord in regards to launching some processes connected with the system of regional security. "If we manage to launch a similar regional process–involving Turkey and Iran in it–it will comprehensively alleviate tensions and will be largely instrumental in ensuring peace and stability in the region. It will be an important process to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict," the minister added. He stressed the importance of holding discussions among the three South Caucasus states and the three neighboring states–Russia–Turkey and Iran–on the issue of taking a number of measures promoting stability in the region.

Global processes may influence various spheres. The Chechen problem is a subject for serious discussion between Russia and the United States and it is not ruled out that these countries–as cochairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group–may discuss this issue in this very context. Secondly–the minister continued–further developmen’s may cause a tendency towards destabilization in Georgia and Azerbaijan–Russia’s bordering countries Russia–which–in its turn–may impact Armenia and the Karabakh problem.

Saying that Armenia has a strategic partnership with Russia and quite good relations with the US–the minister emphasized that with all the qualitative differences these relations do not imply orientation.

Meanwhile–the defense ministers of Azerbaijan and Georgia declared their countries’ political decisions to join NATO at the meeting of NATO defense ministers vowing every effort to acquire NATO membership as early as possible. "It is this very polarization and aggravation that worry us most of all. We feel anxious because these processes may develop as far as to become hard to reverse plunging our region into this polarization," Oskanian said.

The minister said he could not guarantee that the process would be successful. "It is just an attempt on our part," he said–"there is some support–but no success or positive result can ever be guaranteed."

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