OSCE, EU Urge Further Progress On Karabakh

BRUSSELS, Belgium (RFFE/RL)–Europe’s two leading security organizations have commended Armenia and Azerbaijan for moving closer to ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and urged both nations to build on the progress "as soon as possible." In separate statemen’s, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union highlighted fresh hopes for a speedy solution to the Karabakh conflict that have been raised by the latest meeting of the Armenian and Azeri presidents. "We are encouraged that negotiations in 2006, facilitated by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and supported by the OSCE Chairman in Office, have brought the sides closer to agreement on the basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," the foreign ministers of OSCE member states said at the end of a two-day meeting in Brussels. The statement urged Presidents Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia to "redouble their efforts in the coming year to finalize these basic principles as soon as possible." Its content was agreed with and signed by the foreign ministers of the two South Caucasus states. OSCE ministers failed to reach a similar agreement on other "frozen conflicts" in the former Soviet Union. "The EU is encouraged by the active dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a settlement to the conflict," Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said in a statement issued on behalf of the bloc late on Monday. "We call on both parties to seize the opportunity to make progress without delay," he added. In a statement Tuesday, the OSCE said that negotiations in 2006 have brought Armenia and Azerbaijan "closer to agreement on the basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." The OSCE also urged the "presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to redouble their efforts in the coming year to finalize these basic principles as soon as possible."There has been some progress on the issue of frozen conflicts, particularly in Nagorno-Karabakh," De Gucht said. "The OSCE has also demonstrated proof of its usefulness recently by defusing the crisis in relations between Russian and Georgia. However, it is a fact that the situation remains largely blocked." De Gucht was reported to say that a solution is in sight for Karabakh in the next year. "There is a very good chance that we can (resolve) this conflict in the course of next year," he told a news briefing in Brussels. "We have made really substantial progress, if not a breakthrough." The Armenian foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian, had also been upbeat. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the meeting of the Armenian and Azeri presidents in Minsk last week gives hope that there is a possibility to achieve agreement, even on the very difficult issues. "Negotiations around the principles [for solving the conflict] are continuing. The approaches of the sides are getting closer on some difficult issues," Oskanian said. Speaking in Brussels, Foreign Minister Oskanian reiterated that Armenia insisted on self-determination. "We don’t see another path for solving the conflict. This is a key problem, a fundamental problem for us. As I have always said, all other issues are based on this issue," Oskanian said. "If Azerbaijan accepts the right of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh, then it will be possible to talk about other problems."If Azerbaijan is able to have the courage to admit that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh can decide their own fate, status, and security issues, then, indeed, there are prospects to achieve serious progress in this process," Oskanian said. But finding that "courage" could be difficult for Azerbaijan. RFE/RL Caucasus analyst Liz Fuller says that because Karabakh’s population is overwhelmingly Armenian, such a vote would almost certainly support independence. Speaking to RFE/RL on Monday, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian cautioned against excessive expectations from the next round of Armenian-Azeri negotiations. He indicated that the conflicting parties have yet to fully agree on the main point of the existing international peace plan: a referendum on Karabakh’s status. "We’ve got to be very careful about appearing too optimistic," Oskanian told Reuters news agency in a separate interview. He said although there has been progress on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, working out its details could prove even more difficult. "That’s where the positions are inching closer, but we are not there yet. Once we conclude the document, we have to go into a second layer where we may face fresh problems because discussing details sometimes could prove more problematic than the principles." Oskanian and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov were due to discuss their next steps on the fringes of the OSCE conference. But they avoided any face-to-face meetings in the Belgian capital, opting instead for "proximity talks" through the French, Russian and US mediators. Over the past 12 months, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is negotiating a solution to the conflict, have warned that upcoming elections in both countries could upset chances for peace. Armenia is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2007. Both countries will hold presidential elections in 2008. Analysts say that election campaigns will increase rhetoric and an unwillingness to compromise from both sides. Mammadyarov, speaking in Brussels Tuesday, said Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed on the basic principles of the status of region, but that differences remained over the speed of the pullout of Armenian troops from the province. Mammadyarov said the two sides have agreed on the need for international peacekeepers and the quick rebuilding of the infrastructure of the region. But he condemned Armenian plans for a constitutional referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh later this month, saying Azerbaijan is still not convinced Armenia is sincere about its determination to resolve the conflict.

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