Ghukasian Tells Mediators Karabagh Involvement Crucial

AZERI FM SAYS MINSK GROUP HAS NO PROPOSALS THAT COULD LEAD TO A JUST SETTLEMENT OF THE KARABAGH CONFLICT

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Yerkir)–The French–Russian–and US Minsk Group co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) completed a fresh round of peace talks on Mountainous Karabagh–calling on Sunday for the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet soon to discuss their "new ideas" of resolving the long-running conflict.

In meeting with the mediators on the same day–Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR) President Arkady Ghukasian maintained Stepanakert’s position that the talks would not be fruitful unless MKR becomes a direct party to the settlement process.

"It would be hard to achieve positive results unless Mountainous Karabagh is involved in the talks," Ghukasian said during his meeting in Stepanakert with Minsk Group co-chairs Yuri Merzlyakov–Rudolph Perina–Henri Jacolin–and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. He stressed that MKR is prepared to discuss any issue without pre-conditions. "To us the talks are not the end to themselves. Karabagh is interested in final settlement."

The Group submitted no written proposals to the parties–and made it clear that they would be drawn up after President Robert Kocharian’s first direct talks with recently elected Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev–and would not be markedly different from their previous peace plans.

"We have not put forth new proposals to the two presidents," France’s representative to the Minsk Group Jacolin–told reporters in Yerevan after a meeting with Kocharian on Saturday. "We have some ideas–but it would have been too early to present them before we know the views of the two presidents."

Russian representative Merzlyakov–likewise spoke of unspecified "new approaches" to Karabagh peace. "Those approaches will apparently be discussed by the two presidents when they meet."

The envoys said that although the two presidents recognize the need for a face-to-face meeting–they have not yet set a date–and should meet as soon as possible.

"There is an important opportunity–and I would almost say responsibility–to try to get an energetic process going again now that elections in both countries have been completed," US negotiator Perina said–admitting that elections in each country caused the one-year pause in mediating efforts.

It was their first tour of the zone of conflict in over a year–and the first encounter with Aliyev since his controversial inheritance of power last October from his ailing father Heydar. The politically inexperienced Azeri leader’s ability to embrace major concessions to the Armenian side is seen as one of the key conditions for ending the bitter territorial dispute that has been the region’s main destabilizing factor.

In his opening televised remarks to the mediators in Baku on Friday–Aliyev junior stuck to the official Azerbaijani line that the international community is doing little to restore his country’s control over Karabagh. He claimed that the Azerbaijani public is increasingly skeptical about the Minsk Group.

"The co-chairs of the Minsk Group have no proposals that would lead to a just settlement of the Karabagh conflict," Aliyev’s foreign minister Vilayat Guliev–said in a newspaper interview published the next day.

The Azerbaijani leadership’s stance was described as a "language of double standards" by Jacolin after the co-chairs met with the Ghukasian. The French envoy noted that while being critical of the Minsk Group–Baku concedes that it still represents a "good format" of negotiations.

Armenian officials made no public commen’s on the Minsk Group’s latest round of shuttle diplomacy–but have maintained that peace agreemen’s reached by Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev in Key West–Florida in 2001 must be at the heart of any future peace initiative. Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly denied the existence of such agreemen’s. The mediators–however–have indicated the opposite–with Perina declaring at a conference in May 2002 that the two sides were "incredibly close" to cutting a deal on Karabagh.

Perina hinted strongly in Yerevan that the peace formula agreed at Key West remains on the negotiating table. "In ten years of negotiation there are very few ideas which are completely new," he said. "At one point or another–most of the basic approaches to resolving this problem have been discussed."

"That is why the challenge now is perhaps just modifying various ideas–combining them–refining them–and making new combinations–rather than trying to develop a completely new idea."

Merzlyakov noted that the new Minsk Group plan may contain elemen’s of a step-by-step strategy of ending the dispute that would delay agreement on Karabagh’s status–but declined to elaborate.

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