Karabakh Peace Process ?Still Alive? Says Oskanian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia held out hope for a quick settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on Wednesday–urging international mediators to remove what it termed "complications" that led to the postponement of a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Geneva this month. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed hope that the French–Russian and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group will help the conflicting parties build upon "serious progress" they had made earlier this year.

"I want to make it clear that the [peace] process is still alive–and we hope that the co-chairs will make active efforts to eliminate those newly created complications and bring the process back to the previously agreed framework," Oskanian told a news conference in Yerevan.

The Geneva meeting–which had heightened expectations of a long-awaited breakthrough–was put off indefinitely late last month–following a visit to Armenia–Azerbaijan and Karabakh by the Minsk Group negotiators. The mediators toned down their optimism about prospects for a peace settlement–arguing that the conflicting parties need more time to agree all terms of a Karabakh peace deal.

According to Oskanian–Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev agreed to the main "principles" of ending the Karabakh conflict during their talks in Paris and the Florida resort of Key West in March and April respectively. "I want to declare that Armenia remains committed to the Paris principles and is prepared to continue negotiations in that spirit," Oskanian said.

Oskanian also said he does not share the viewpoint of US co-chair Carey Cavanaugh–who claimed that the public in both countries was not ready to accept a compromise. "Neither in Azerbaijan nor in Armenia the public is aware of the details of the confidential talks–therefore it is somewhat difficult to conclude that it is not ready for a compromise solution.," Oskanian said–adding that the both peoples should know what they would receive and what they give in exchange.

He refused to elaborate on the reasons why the next summit was put on hold–reiterating only Kocharian’s statement that the Armenian side was not responsible for the delay. Officials of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have accused the Azerbaijani government of opposing a peace accord based on mutual compromise. However–Armenian leaders have so far stopped short of directly blaming Baku. Meanwhile–Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev was quoted on Wednesday–as saying that the latest impasse results from a "non-constructive" stance of the Armenian side. In an interview with the Baku newspaper "Express," Guliev called for a new "format" for the peace talks.

Oskanian sought to put an optimistic spin on the recent developmen’s–saying that Kocharian and Aliev have managed to build a "really good basis" for a Karabakh settlement. He said: "This is an ongoing process which I find normal and express hope that all these [problems] eventually will be overcome and we will return to the foundation laid in Paris."

He added that the agreemen’s reached by Kocharian and Aliev at the Paris meeting–mediated by French President Jacques Chirac–are in line with the long-standing Armenian position on the issue–which rules out Karabakh’s "subordination" to Baku.

Oskanian also commented on a recent announcement by the Russian co-chair Nikolay Gribkov who reportedly said that the Azeri community in Karabakh should also be recognized as a side to the conflict. "During his visit to the region Gribkov–he spoke about Karabakh as the third side to the conflict. To the best of my knowledge–Gribkov referred to a document which calls to recognize the Azeri community as the fourth side to the conflict–but irrespective as to what others say–our position is that the conflict has three sides–Armenia–Karabakh and Azerbaijan–and it is they who have to find a final and comprehensive solution ," Oskanian said.

Oskanian further dismissed Turkey’s reported demand for a "security corridor" between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan as "unacceptable" and "nonsensical." Turkish newspapers quoted Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit as saying that the creation of the overland link is another precondition for the normalization of relations with Armenia.

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