OSCE Minsk Mediators Visit Armenia Karabakh

Co-Chairs Apply Indirect Pressure By Trying To Accelerate Efforts

YEREVAN (combined sources)–The OSCE Minsk group co-chairs–who visited Azerbaijan–Karabakh and Armenia over the past few days–attempted to bring about a quick resolution to the Karabakh conflict. This was done through indirect pressure by promising economic prosperity to the Armenia’s as a result of a resolution. The co-chairs claimed both the Armenian and Azeri presidents are not receiving broad support from their publics–nor advising them to make necessary concessions for peace.

The OSCE Minsk group–made up of Philippe de Suremain from France–Nikolay Gribkov from Russia and Carey Cavanaugh of the US and other diplomats–were in Baku on Friday–May 18–meeting with President Heydar Aliev and other top officials. They left the Azerbaijani capital the next day in a convoy of vehicles for a refugee camp in Aghjabedi–which local authorities say houses some 35,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict.

Cavanaugh said in Baku that an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal is "less of a dream now and can be seen on the horizon." His Russian counterpart Gribkov–however–cautioned against "excessive hopes" for imminent peace. According to the ITAR-TASS news agency–he said there are many major issues to which solutions will not be easy to find.

The team of international negotiators met with senior Nagorno-Karabakh officials in Stepanakert on Saturday–May 19–after making the first-ever crossing of the Armenian-Azerbaijani front-line along the eastern edge of the disputed territory. Senior diplomats held talks with the defense and foreign ministers of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the second leg of their regional tour.

The talks in Stepanakert were followed by another visit to the front-line–where the mediators attended a regular OSCE monitoring of the cease-fire regime–which has been effective since May 1994. The troika also visited the 13th century Gandzasar monastery–a masterpiece of medieval Armenian architecture.

The co-chairs proceeded to Armenia on Sunday–May 20–for further talks with the leadership in Yerevan. They arrived in northern Armenia–which was devastated by the 1988 earthquake. International assistance for economic reconstruction in Armenia is seen by the mediators as a major incentive for the parties to achieve a compromise settlement. It is expected that a hefty aid package would be part of peace proposals to be unveiled next month in Geneva.

The international mediators also visited the railroad station Akhurian–which is only two kilometers away from Turkish border. Akhurian is a major railroad junction that connects Armenia with Turkey. The first rail shipment from Turkey crossed Akhurian in 1993. The station was closed in July 1993. Governor of the Shirak region Felix Pirumian said the Akhurian railway station will be ready for the resumption of rail traffic between Armenia and Turkey after minor reconstruction. US mediator Carey Cavanaugh said that Turkey was interested in opening the railroad connection with Armenia–but the Karabakh conflict prevented the move.

Top Russian mediator of the Nagorno-Karabakh Peace talks Nikolay Gribkov said the Geneva peace talks could be postponed until August or later. "There is no need to hold a meeting just for its own sake"–he added. "The meeting will take place when we are ready to take another step forward," said Gribkov. "We need to be realists. This meeting needs to be well prepared for in advance."

Gribkov refused to predict whether a peace deal would be signed this year. "We all want very much that the peace accord be signed as soon as possible and we shall continue working to make the differences between the conflicting parties as narrow as possible," he said.

"Iran is one of the key players in the region and we realize that the OSCE co-chairmen’should also meet with Iranian officials to keep them informed about the pace of negotiations," Gribkov added.

US negotiator Carey Cavanaugh’s commen’s on the possible progress in the peace talks were also less optimistic. "We are probably not as close now as at the end of Key West–because both sides are looking at things more closely," he said. But the US diplomat said that it was not a surprise for him. Cavanaugh also emphasized that the meetings they had in Baku–Stepanakert and Armenia allowed the peace process to move forward. "We all are aware of what kind of difficulties we are facing on the path to peace–and what kind of responsibility is laid on both presidents. The most difficult task that faces them is to gain broad support form their publics," he added.

French representative Philippe de Suremain–however–expressed optimism that the time was right for a peace deal. "We are at a sensitive moment," he said. "The frustration on both sides is very high. But both sides also understand that there is a general will for peace in their countries."

Armenian Prime Minister Adranik Margarian said the Armenian side would do everything to get a just solution to the Karabakh conflict. According to the minister–in case of concluding the negotiations process–the Armenian president and the executive power must express their positions publicly–which should be followed by parliamentary discussions–but "the final decision belongs to all political forces on the basis of mutual accord," he said.

Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev are due to meet in Geneva in mid-June in the next round of talks over Karabakh. The talks in Switzerland will involve the same format as the Key West talks jointly-chaired by the three co-chairs of the Minsk group.

Meanwhile–the depth of the divide separating the two sides was again brought to light on Friday when Baku called for the expulsion of Yerevan from the Collective Security Treaty between Russia and five other former Soviet republics. "We urge the signatories to the collective security treaty to suspend Armenia’s participation and not to agree any aid or military support to this aggressive state," Azeri Defense Minister Safar Abiev told a meeting with counterparts from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

However–Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov–also present at the meeting–told reporters that such an action would be "incorrect."

The Karabakh issue was also on the agenda of Friday’s meeting in Washington between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Powell said they "reviewed the effort to promote a peace settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan." Cooperation between Washington and Moscow is seen as vital for the success of the effort.

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