Russian Co-Chair Disagrees With His US Counterpart on Karabakh Peace

BAKU (Armenpress)–The Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group Thursday cooled down a cautious optimistic outlook that Armenia and Azerbaijan could hammer out a peace agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after Armenia has its parliamentary elections, as expressed by his US counterpart in an interview Wednesday. In an interview with Azerbaijani Trend news agency Yuri Merzlyakov said Armenian and Azeri presidents would hardly have another face-to-face meeting before May 12, explaining that the peace brokers have little time to prepare such a meeting. The Russian diplomat disagreed with the US co-chairman Mathew Bryza who was quoted by RFE/RL as saying that "Armenia and Azerbaijan don’t agree 100 percent on the basic principles of a peaceful settlement, but they are close, very close."They agree on the philosophy of the basic principles and most of the basic principles themselves," Bryza was quoted as saying. Bryza also said that though the parties will have to solve "a lot of technical issues that are really outstanding," Armenia and Azerbaijan may cut a long- awaited peace deal during the period between the May parliamentary elections in Armenia and the 2008 presidential elections due in both countries. "I think there is going to be a bit of a timeout in terms of the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] presidents’ diplomacy now, with the parliamentary elections in Armenia, but I think all the other diplomacy can continue, and I think after the elections there is a strong possibility that the presidents will reinvigorate their negotiations," Bryza was quoted by RFE/RL as saying. But Merzlyakov said what Bryza terms as technical issues in fact are not technical only. He said he would agree rather with an assessment by Azeri foreign minister Elmar Mammedyarov that Armenia and Azerbaijan still have to surmount one or two contentious issues before to forge ahead. Merzlyakov said he and his colleagues would like Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers to have another meeting in early March. "We are working in this direction but we have not yet reached a final arrangement and we would like them to meet in early March and not later," he said. After touring Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in late January the Minsk Group urged in a joint statement leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "prepare the public for the necessary compromises."

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