Azeri, Turkish Leaders Say No Progress In Karabakh Talks

Turkish Foreign Minister (L) Ahmet Davutoglu with Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov (R).

Turkish Foreign Minister (L) Ahmet Davutoglu with Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov (R).

DAMASCUS (Combined Sources)–In a move that could undermine efforts by international mediators to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani and Turkish foreign ministers said over the weekend that Armenia and Azerbaijan have made no progress in resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, sharply contradicting optimistic statements made by international mediators.

“Despite the development of a new situation in the region, Armenia has unfortunately begun having a negative influence on the peace process,” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told the Trend news agency.

“We achieved everything with the previous Armenian administration in the peace process, but with the current Armenian administration we have achieved nothing,” he said. “As a person leading the negotiations, I cannot boast that we have made even some progress in outstanding issues.”

Mammadyarov’s Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, had a similar take on the current state of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiating process. “There has been no progress,” he told the Anatolia news agency on Sunday. “It is time to revive this process. Turkey will continue its efforts.”

Turkey, a non-actor in the Minsk Group mediated negotiations, has been seeking to boost its role in the peace process by threatening to derail its US-brokered talks with Armenia if a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh favoring its ally Azerbaijan is not reached first.

Davutoglu said that a strong Azerbaijan implies a strong Turkey. “Our Azerbaijani brothers and sisters should know that, just as in the past, Turkey will be on the side of Azerbaijan in the future,” Davutoglu said. “Turkey and Azerbaijan are not merely friends and neighbors. They are also strategic partners.”

The two ministers spoke in Damascus, Syria where they attended a high-level meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries. They were due to fly to Baku and hold talks there late on Monday.

The apparent reversal in official attitude by Ankara and Baku toward the Karabakh peace process comes a week after the OSCE Minsk Group’s French co-chair, Bernard Fassier, warned Turkey that its attempts to link the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the normalization of its relations with Armenia could jeopardize the new momentum in the talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly reaffirmed that linkage during his visit to Azerbaijan on May 13, saying that it is “impossible” for Turkey to open its border with Armenia unless the “Occupation of Karabakh” ends.

Those remarks were met with sharp criticism in Armenia, with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian warning that Turkey’s posturing could hamper both the Armenian-Azerbaijani, as well as the Armenian-Turkish negotiations.

Sarkisian has held four face-to-face meetings with Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev since taking office in April 2008. Their most recent talks took place in Prague on May 7. According to the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE, the two leaders further narrowed their differences over the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the mediating troika.

The mediators’ upbeat statements about chances for the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework peace accord have been strongly denounced by Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov. He has accused them of adopting “double standards” and favoring the Armenian side out of “Christian solidarity.”

Still, the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, insisted on May 15 that Aliyev and Sarkisian did make “significant progress” in Prague. “Novruz Mammadov has no way to judge what the outcome of the discussion was because he wasn’t there,” Bryza told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service.

“We have a series, between 10 and 20 basic principles in our Madrid document, and we have a handful of the 10-12 issues that still need to be worked out conceptually,” he said. “And what I felt during those negotiations … was that the presidents did in fact work through the concepts of that handful of basic principles that had not been agreed. What they didn’t do was agree on the details.

“And that’s the focus of our negotiations right now. To have a conceptual agreement, but not to agree on the details, is significant progress.”

Bryza and his French and Russian colleagues are due to again visit the conflict zone this week to prepare for yet another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit tentatively scheduled for the beginning of next month. They hope that it will yield a long-awaited breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process.

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