Oskanian Comments on Minsk Group Peace Proposal

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–In an interview with Armenpress Wednesday–Armenia’s foreign minister Vartan Oskanian point-by-point discussed an announcement issued by the co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

In a joint statement that was circulated by the U.S. embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday–the Minsk Group’s American–French and Russian co-chairs said their confidential peace plan envisions a self-determination referendum to be held in Karabakh after the liberation of Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan–reported RFE/RL Wednesday.

The statement was presented to the OSCE’s decision-making Permanent Council in Vienna last Thursday and was not made public until being posted on the U.S. embassy website almost a week later. Washington’s new top Karabakh negotiator–Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza–revealed details of the proposed peace plan to RFE/RL shortly after the Permanent Council meeting.

"These principles include the phased redeployment of Armenian troops from Azeri territories around Nagorno-Karabakh–with special modalities for Kelbajar and Lachin districts [separating Karabakh from Armenia proper]," said the co-chairs. "Demilitarization of those territories would follow. A referendum or population vote would be agreed–at an unspecified future date–to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

"An international peacekeeping force would be deployed," added the statement. "A joint commission would be agreed to implement the agreement. International financial assistance would be made available for demining–reconstruction–resettlement of internally displaced persons in the formerly occupied territories and the war-affected regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. The sides would renounce the use or threat of use of force–and international and bilateral security guarantees and assurances would be put in place."

The mediators said the sides to the conflict would also have to work out practical modalities of the Karabakh referendum. "Suitable preconditions for such a vote would have to be achieved so that the vote would take place in a non-coercive environment in which well-informed citizens have had ample opportunity to consider their positions after a vigorous debate in the public arena."

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Armenpress: The co-chairs in their statement say that "our approach has been a modified one: we have not tried to solve all aspects of the conflict in one phase. Instead our principles seek to achieve a major degree of progress but defer some very difficult issues to the future and envision further negotiations." What does this mean?

Vartan Oskanian: The actual negotiating document on the principles that is on the table today is all-encompassing. It covers all the principles affecting the resolution of the conflict. It includes the core issue of status of Nagorno Karabakh–territories–refugees–security issues–peacekeeping and every other conceivable issue that is necessary in order to arrive at a lasting resolution of the conflict.

Only after full agreement on all these basic principles would the parties–as the actual negotiating text says–"in cooperation with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group to begin work on the elaboration of an agreement on the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict." In other words–the agreement on principles will be comprehensive. The final agreement may envision implementation over time.

Armenpress: In their report–the co-chairs say "the principles include the phased redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno Karabakh–with special modalities for Kelbajar and Lachin districts." What are these special modalities?

V.O.: This formulation is indeed very broad–and for a reason. This issue has two layers. One is the issue of Lachin–where the actual negotiating text on principles provides clear language stating that there will be "a corridor linking Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia." For Armenia–it’s very clear that this corridor must have the same status as Nagorno Karabakh. The second layer is the issue of Kelbajar. For Armenia–this also is clear: based on security concerns–Kelbajar can be returned only after the referendum is conducted and the final status of Karabakh is determined. Azerbaijan’s position is different on Kelbajar. That’s the disagreement that the co-chairs are addressing in their statement. The co-chairs’ language in the actual negotiating text–with regard to this issue–is generally in line with our approach.

Armenpress: The co-chairs say that there will be a referendum "to determine the final legal status of Nagorno Karabakh," but they don’t say who will vote.

V.O.: The actual negotiating text on principles clearly specifies that "the final legal status will be determined through a referendum by the population of Nagorno Karabakh."

Armenpress: The co-chairs also say "certain interim arrangemen’s for Nagorno Karabakh would allow for interaction with providers of international assistance." What does this mean?

V.O.: This is only one element of a much more detailed section in the actual negotiating text which addresses interim status for Nagorno Karabakh. We think the co-chairs have emphasized international engagement–because that’s a major problem for the people of Nagorno Karabakh.

Their current–unrecognized–de-facto status–has not allowed them to benefit from the generosity of international organizations. In the actual negotiating text–the provisions address such rights as control over their political and economic viability and security–upholding their personal privileges and freedoms–the right to democratically elect officials to govern Nagorno Karabakh–the authority to effectively legislate and administer the internal affairs of Nagorno Karabakh.

Armenpress: What is Armenia’s overall assessment of the content of the document as it stands today?

V.O.: This not a perfect document. For anyone. However–there are enough solid and balanced provisions–with the right trade-offs on the main issues – status–territories and security – that we are prepared to continue to negotiate on the basis of these principles. In today’s context–Azerbaijan’s rhetoric about autonomy and desperate calls for militarization surprise us. We have at hand a real opportunity to resolve all issues–including the much-maligned issue of refugees. But Azerbaijan must revert to real situations and real opportunities–rather than illusory maximalist hopes. Today–we hope that Azerbaijan will realize that we have a chance to resolve the conflict and achieve a lasting peace.

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