Russian Mediator Confirms Work on New Karabagh Plan

MOSCOW (RFE/RL)–A senior Russian diplomat confirmed on Thursday that he and the other international mediators are working on a new peace plan attempting to reconcile the opposing strategies of Armenia and Azerbaijan on ending the Mountainous Karabagh conflict. The Russian co-chair of the OSCE’s Minsk Group Yuri Merzlyakov–said a synthesis of a "step-by-step" settlement of the conflict pushed by Azerbaijan and a single "package" accord demanded by the Armenian side–is the only realistic way of breaking the decade-long deadlock in the peace process.

"The co-chairs are now trying to propose a variant of the settlement which would literally allow us to synthesize incompatible proposals–namely–those two approaches," Merzlyakov said. "In our view–this is possible to do if the parties display good will."

The new "third-way" strategy of conflict resolution was apparently the main focus. Merzlyakov and the Minsk Group’s French and US co-chairs also took part in it.

Precisely what practical form that synthesis might take remains unclear.

After his meeting in Prague on Monday with Azerbaijan’s foreign minister–Armenian foreign minister Vartan Oskanian said that though the idea is realistic–the approach must somehow address the thorny issue of Karabagh’s status.

President Robert Kocharian made it clear on Wednesday–however–that Armenia’s will never agree to Karabagh’s return to Azeri rule.

"Karabagh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijan," Kocharian said–addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. "Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity therefore has nothing in common with Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR)."

MKR’s leadership and the Kocharian administration insist on a "package" settlement which was almost secured during a peace conference on the Florida Island of Key West in April 2001.

According to the Armenian side–Azerbaijan’s then President Heydar Aliyev backtracked on the deal which would have upheld Armenian control of Karabagh. It proposes settling key problems–including status–security guarantees–and troop withdrawal–with a single–comprehensive agreement.

Oskanian and other Armenian officials said earlier this year that the only way to push the peace process forward is to revive those Key West agreemen’s.

The step-by-step solution that Azerbaijan advocates was strongly backed in late 1997 by Kocharian’s predecessor Levon Ter Petrosian. It calls for Armenia to surrender specific buffer zones to Azerbaijan–in exchange of deployment of international peacekeepers in Mountainous Karabagh.

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