Armenia Hails Change in Karabakh Talks

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia on Monday confirmed reports that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have named special envoys that will liaise with international mediators trying to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The idea was suggested by the French–Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group which has been leading the peace drive for the past 10 years. The Armenian foreign ministry said it "will facilitate progress" in the stalled negotiating process.

"This agreement was reached during the co-chairs’ [latest] visit to the region and won the approval of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents," the ministry said in a statement.

The mediators reportedly announced on Friday that they will meet with the special envoys once in every two or three months in addition to their periodical visits to the zone of conflict.

The Armenian side will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian–a 37-year-old career diplomat dealing with security issues and coordinating Armenia’s ties with international organizations. His Azerbaijani opposite number–Araz Azimov–is likely to represent President Heydar Aliev–according to the Turan news agency.

Baku and Yerevan had special Karabakh negotiators until 1998. The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders have since been conducting the peace talks either by themselves or through their foreign ministers. Aliev and his Armenian counterpart–Robert Kocharian–have met for more than 15 times over the past two years to discuss possible solutions to the conflict.

"These appointmen’s do not mean a change in the format of the negotiations," Kocharian’s spokesman–Vahe Gabrielian–told RFE/RL. "The presidents will continue to meet with each other."

The two Karabakh envoys are expected to attend a meeting of the Minsk Group co-chairs in Prague in May. The co-chairs made no indications about their further plans after touring the region earlier this month.

They were again accused of pro-Armenian bias by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev late last week. The Azerbaijani daily "Zerkalo" quoted him as complaining that the mediators "consider changing the territorial integrity" of Azerbaijan. He said the OSCE’s reluctance to view Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan amounts to pressure on Baku.

Guliev reiterated Baku’s insistence that Aliev and Kocharian reached no major agreemen’s during their talks in Paris and Key West last year. Armenian officials say the two leaders agreed the main principles on which a Karabakh settlement should be based. The OSCE’s current rotating chairman–Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama–likewise stressed recently that those principles remain "the basis of the negotiations."

Guliev also criticized the international community for supporting Armenia’s view that all three south Caucasian states should engage in economic cooperation before the resolution of regional ethnic disputes. "They should realize that Azerbaijan–which was subjected to aggression by Armenia–will never agree to cooperate with the aggressor until the liberation of captured territories," he told a Norwegian diplomat in Baku.

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