Kocharian Pessimistic about Karabagh Peace

YEREVAN (REF/RL)–President Robert Kocharian voiced skepticism on Monday about the long-awaited resolution of the Mountainous Karabagh conflict–citing Azerbaijan’s refusal to negotiate with the Karabagh Armenia’s and engage in joint economic projects with Armenia.

"I don’t have much optimism at the moment," he said at a joint news conference with the visiting Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel.

Kocharian stressed that internationally sponsored peace talks will lead nowhere unless they include representatives of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR). "I think that this format is not quite correct and does not reflect the essence of the conflict," he said.

Azerbaijan–however–refuses to recognize MKR as a separate party to the conflict–saying that the disputed region and Azerbaijani territories surrounding it are controlled by Armenia proper. An Azeri Foreign Ministry spokesman repeated last week that Baku will not negotiate with MKR representatives. He also rejected Armenian warnings not to raise the Karabagh issue with the United Nations.

The UN General Assembly is expected to discuss Azeri claims about a massive resettlement of Armenia’s in the occupied Azeri lands later this year.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned last week that Azerbaijan risks reversing "serious progress" made during a series of talks earlier this year between him and Azeri counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov. The Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–he stressed–must remain the sole international mediator of the Karabagh peace process. Azerbaijan will have to deal with MKR if it insists on bringing the UN into the picture–he added.

Kocharian likewise stressed that the Minsk Group–which is co-chaired by the United States–Russia and France–represents the optimal mediation framework. He said the co-chairs have been "objective" to this point and should not be blamed for the lack of progress.

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