Mediators Visit Armenia Karabakh in New Peace Push

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A team of French–Russian and US mediators cited on Monday major difficulties still hampering a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as it opened a new round of shuttle diplomacy–meeting with senior officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert. Starting yet another tour of the conflict zone–the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sought to breathe new life into the peace process which was thrown into uncertainty last month following the cancellation of a crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.

The envoys–among them Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov–said their meeting with President Robert Kocharian focused on ways of amending agreemen’s reached by the conflicting parties in Paris last March and the Florida island of Key West in April.

"It was a very good discussion–but it also highlighted how difficult a problem this is to solve," the chief US negotiator in the group–Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–told reporters after the meeting. He did not elaborate–saying only that the Karabakh peace process is now "getting to points near the end that are much more difficult."

"We made very clear the commitment of President Bush–President Putin and President Chirac to continue to work on this issue. We explored with him further the ideas we had talked about in Paris and Key West–and looked at some refinemen’s of those that might help move this process forward more quickly," he said.

It was expected that the agreemen’s in question will serve as the basis for the Minsk Group’s new peace plan–which was to be unveiled at the June meeting in Geneva between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heydar Aliev. According to Armenian officials–the meeting was put off indefinitely in late May due to unspecified "complications." An Armenian diplomatic source claimed on Tuesday that the delay was caused by unexpected Azerbaijani deman’s for more concessions from Yerevan and Stepanakert.

Speaking to RFE/RL earlier in the day the mediators declined to comment on chances of a breakthrough before the end of the year. Cavanaugh said the troika is setting "no artificial deadlines" for a long-awaited peace accord but will try to achieve it "as soon it can."

"We are not setting any time frames but are doing our best to bring the settlement closer," Russia’s Trubnikov said for his part. "We maintain the framework which was agreed at Paris [in March] and Key West. We continue to work on it by making certain modifications and changes. But we are not going beyond that framework."

Meanwhile–AFP quoted Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian as expressing hope that an agreement could be reached "by the end of the year."The general framework is pretty much in place. Some components have changed but we are trying to work them out. If we can work out our differences–a Geneva meeting is possible," Oskanyan said.

The mediators–according to Cavanaugh–are in the meantime "upset at war rhetoric and talk about renewed fighting" voiced by some Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. "That would just be a calamity for all parties," he warned. "We see no value for any side in fighting in this region."

Defense Minister Sarkisian reiterated Armenia’s official position that the conflict should be resolved through peaceful means only. He also informed that cases of shootings on the line of contact have been reduced and Armenian troops have not suffered losses from shootings–which he described as "a progress." Sarkisian assured the Armenian side’s willingness to keep the cease-fire regime in place.

Aliev and other Azerbaijani officials have made it clear recently that they may try to regain control of Karabakh and surrounding territories by force if the peace talks fail. But in an interview with RFE/RL last week–the president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic–Arkady Ghukasian–warned that Baku will risk losing more lands if it tries the military option.

The Minsk Group envoys met with Ghukasian late on Tuesday. They will on Wednesday proceed to Azerbaijan by crossing the heavily fortified front-line separating Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

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