New Karabagh Envoy for US Abiyev Ties Unstable Armenia to Renewed War

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States will soon appoint a new chief negotiator in the long-running international efforts to resolve the Mountainous Karabagh conflict–official Azeri sources revealed on Wednesday–citing the US ambassador in Baku.

Azeri news agencies quoted Ambassador Reno Harnish as telling Defense Minister Safar Abiyev on Tuesday that Steven Mann–Washington’s special representative to the Caspian Sea region–will soon take over as the new US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Harnish said he hopes that the appointment will give new impetus to the stalled Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. No other details were reported.

In his current capacity–Mann has for years focused on the development of Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s Caspian oil and natural reserves by Western multinational companies. He also successfully lobbied on behalf of the US government for the ongoing construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that will pump Azerbaijani and possibly Kazakh oil to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.

The multibillion-dollar oil projects–seen as reducing the ex-Soviet states’ dependence on Russia–have been a key motive for the close US involvement in the Karabagh peace process. The Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact around Karabagh lies only several dozen kilometers south of the nearest section of the future pipeline.

Meeting with the US envoy–the Azerbaijani defense chief accused the Armenian side of trying to "obstruct" the $2.5 billion work on the pipeline.

Abiyev also claimed that rising political tensions in Armenia make a renewed war in Karabagh more likely. "Should the government lose control over the domestic situation–a war may break out," he said. As a defense minister–I see this and warn the public. We must be always ready to defend the territorial integrity of our state."

The US State Department has not yet officially announced Mann’s upcoming appointment. An Armenian diplomatic source suggested that the information provided by Harnish was not meant for publication by the Azeri government.

The current US co-chair of the Minsk Group–Rudolf Perina–has held the post since September 2001. Perina and his Russian and French counterparts were due to preside over an important meeting between the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers which was scheduled to take place in Prague late last week. The talks were canceled at Baku’s request.

This was followed by the weekend dismissal of Vilayat Guliyev–Azerbaijan’s tough-talking foreign minister. Azerbaijani commentators said Guliyev’s replacement–career diplomat Elmar Mamedyarov–will be more pliant to President Ilham Aliyev.

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