Mediators in Fresh Push for Karabakh Settlement

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A French diplomat hopes Armenia and Azerbaijan will move closer to finding a solution to their long-running dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of international negotiators’ efforts to set up a meeting of their foreign ministers in New York later this month.

Bernard Fassier, the French cochairman of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), shared this optimism at a press conference in Yerevan Wednesday night summing up his meetings with the Armenian and Karabakh leadership.

“After the meeting of the two foreign ministers and after the presidential election in Azerbaijan in October, we should also think about organizing a meeting between the two countries’ presidents,” Fassier said.

Fassier also said that the meeting of the foreign ministers might be held on the sidelines of the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The OSCE Minsk Group was set up in the early 1990s to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave that declared its independence from Baku following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Besides France, the Group is also co-chaired by the United States and Russia.

During the press conference in the Armenian capital, the French cochairman of the group brushed aside speculations that Turkish efforts to assist in settling Armenian-Azerbaijani relations could torpedo the Minsk Group format.

“Since Turkey is also a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, its efforts directed at providing assistance to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict do not imply a change in the format of negotiations,” he said.

“Turkey is one of the 12 states that are members of the OSCE Minsk Group. We report on our progress several times a year to the whole body of members and during the three and a half years that I have been cochairman, Turkey has always shown a constructive approach, supporting the activities of the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group.”

The French diplomat also said that while the Minsk Group remains the format of the peace process, “any proposal made to support the negotiations, in particular from Turkey, is desirable and welcome.”

“All of our three states are glad to see that the relations between Armenia and Turkey seem to be entering a stage of normalization,” Fassier added.

The French envoy was scheduled to meet with his American counterpart Matthew Bryza in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku Thursday evening and then continue negotiations with Azerbaijani leadership on Friday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, has been holding meetings in Baku to discuss a similar set of questions with Azerbaijani leaders. He reportedly, too, defended the Minsk Group’s further activities “despite problems in relations with Russia.”

Bryza, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, was in Stepanakert Friday for talks with Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, then in Yerevan on Saturday for talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.

The United States is paying more attention to the conflict than ever before, Bryza said, adding that the US intends to help the conflicting parties reach a lasting agreement that will satisfy both countries.

He said such an agreement will first be based on the territorial integrity of both sides, but other international principles should be applied to reach a final solution. “We should find a way to satisfy both sides and then sign a deal.”

Bryza’s made his commen’s during a press conference following talks with Azeri Defense Minister, Safar Abiyev on the current military and political situation in the region. The Minsk Group negotiation process and Turkey’s recent overtures to participate in the Karabakh settlement process were high on the agenda of their meeting.

“Our friends from Ankara said they wanted to give help in the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group. Turkey may have its contribution to this process and help Armenia come up with a more flexible position,” Bryza said, commenting on Turkey’s announcement to create a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform that will include the three Caucasus countries plus Turkey and Russia.

“Any step serving to establish peace in the region is praiseworthy. Turkey is the ally of both the United States and Azerbaijan. It is good if this country wants to contribute to the establishment of peace,” Bryza said.

He also praised the steps being taken to normalize relations between Armenia-and Turkey and welcomed Turkey’s sudden surge of activism in mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“Both countries (Armenia and Turkey) have taken important political steps. This is a new direction, there is a need for new directions after what happened in Georgia,” he said.

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