OSCE Chairman Upbeat on Karabakh Declaration at Helsinki Summit

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb

HELSINKI (Reuters)–Azerbaijan and Armenia have made progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the OSCE hopes for a regional declaration on the issue at its annual meetings later this week, its chairman’said on Tuesday.

"Things are looking quite good on Nagorno-Karabakh," Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who is leading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe under the Finnish chairmanship, told Reuters in an interview.

"I think that we are moving away from a frozen conflict towards a permanent solution, but of course we are not there yet, and it is very important that the Minsk Group works on this," Stubb said.

The Minsk Group — co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France — was established by the OSCE in 1992 to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where a Russian-brokered ceasefire has held since 1994.

Stubb said talks among the 50 foreign ministers in Helsinki on Dec. 4-5 for the annual meeting of Europe’s main security and human rights body will be dominated by Caucasus disputes, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, along with the broader question of European security.

The August war between OSCE members Russia and Georgia over breakaway South Ossetia has cast a shadow over the meeting, with military monitors from the security and human rights organization still unable to return to the breakaway region.

Political Declaration

Stubb said he was "rather disappointed" monitors were not allowed back in, and said talks on the impasse would continue in Moscow on Dec. 8.

"Hopefully we can solve it before the end of the year when the (OSCE) mandate runs out," Stubb said. "(But) I won’t give any odds on that."

Stubb said he welcomed a new discussion on European security, an idea first broached by Russia in October, as long as it did not seek to eclipse the role of the OSCE.

"I will be happy if we have had a refreshing discussion on European security, but one which confirms the existence and the future of the OSCE as a vibrant organization taking care of security, the economy and democracy," he said.

"There are some key principles on which I think we should not even being negotiations. They have to do with territorial integrity, democracy, human rights, and the non-use of force in solving conflicts," he added.

Stubb said he did not expect a regional declaration on a second dispute, between Moldova and Transdnestria, during the meeting.

He said Finland was working hard on a political declaration reaffirming OSCE principles and opening the door to a possible summit meeting in 2009 or 2010 that could be signed by all participants.

The last joint political declaration was signed in 2002 in Portugal, and Stubb admitted it would be tough to achieve one this time around given the tense atmosphere following the Russia-Georgia war.

"I am not yet at this stage very hopeful," Stubb said.

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