Karabakh Peace Precondition to Turkey Relations, Echoes Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–In an interview published Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who visited Armenia Friday, echoed Turkey’s calls for an immediate resolution of the Karabakh conflict prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia.

"It [Armenia] really has few geographic and political options. As soon as the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement becomes a fact, Turkey will be ready to help Armenia forge normal links with the outside world, naturally through the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan," said Lavrov who was interviewed by a "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" reporter late last week as he flew to Yerevan to meet with Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. After the talks with Nalbandian he sounded cautiously optimistic about prospects for a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process.

Lavrov said that Russia expects the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet again shortly after next week’s Azeri presidential election and reach a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh.

He stressed the importance of a Nagorno-Karabakh resolution and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations for Armenia’s security and economic development.

According to Lavrov, Armenia’should be keenly interested in a Karabakh resolution in the wake of the crisis in Georgia which he said exposed "the vulnerability of its position" and highlighted the importance of having an open border with Turkey. "Armenia has huge difficulties communicating with the outside world," he said. "It is in the fundamental interests of the Armenian people to unblock this situation as soon as possible.

Lavrov said that after the Russian-Georgian crisis, Turkey saw the "uniqueness of the moment" and the role it can play, as a neighbor to the Caucasus region to broker and actively involve itself in fostering stability in the region.

"There remain two or three unresolved issues which need to be agreed upon at the next meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan," Lavrov told the "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" daily. "Our understanding is that such meetings will take place shortly after the forthcoming [October 15] presidential elections in Azerbaijan."

"As one of three mediators, we have a sense that an end is quite real," he said, adding that the two other mediating powers, the United States and France, also see a "very real chance" of a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

The mediators have been trying to get the conflicting parties to accept the basic principles of Karabakh peace that were formally put forward by them in November 2007. Senior French, Russian and U.S. diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group discussed the possibility of another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit during the most recent talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers held in New York late last month.

Lavrov said the future of the so-called Lachin corridor, which provides for the shortest overland link between Armenia and Karabakh, is now the main stumbling block in the peace talks. He did not elaborate.

However, a top aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, struck a cautious note as he commented on Lavrov’s upbeat statemen’s in Yerevan. "Major issues have not been agreed upon," Novruz Mammadov told the Azeri Trend news agency.

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