France Chides Aliyev Over Karabakh Comments

PARIS (RFE/RL)–The French foreign ministry chided Azeri President Haydar Aliyev on Wednesday for his latest remarks on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process which have drawn an angry rebuttal from Armenia.

A ministry spokeswoman’said official Paris was "surprised" with Aliyev’s disclosure of some alleged details of his negotiations with his Armenian counterpart–Robert Kocharian–held in the French capital last year. The talks were initiated and mediated by French President Jacques Chirac.

"It is somewhat surprising that President Aliyev made such statemen’s because details of the negotiations in Paris and–later on–in Key West can not be disclosed," the official–Catherine Waliski–told RFE/RL. "They should be kept confidential as long as there is no final agreement between the two parties."

Aliyev admitted late last week that he and Kocharian agreed on the main terms of a Karabakh settlement. He claimed that the deal envisaged an exchange of territories whereby Azerbaijan would surrender its Armenian-occupied Lachin district in exchange for winning control of Armenia’s strategic Meghri district. The area bordering on Iran provides Azerbaijan with the shortest overland link with its isolated Nakhichevan exclave.

Armenian officials have strongly denied agreeing to give away Meghri–with Kocharian accusing Aliyev on Tuesday of seeking to destabilize the political situation in Armenia where the idea of the land swap is highly unpopular. Kocharian claimed that Baku wants to secure more Armenian concessions on Karabakh by inciting his opponents to remove him from office.

The French official refused to confirm or refute Aliyev’s claims–saying that the two presidents themselves had asked international mediators to keep details of the peace talks under wraps. "Of course–Haydar Aliyev is free to say whatever he wants to the press or his public. But we can not comment on that in any way," Waliski said.

According to her–Chirac has no immediate plans to host another Armenian-Azeri summit on Karabakh. She said: "No decision has been taken on that so far. The important thing is that the [OSCE’s] Minsk Group continues to mediate in the Karabakh talks and encourage contacts between the two parties."

France co-chairs the Group together with Russia and the United States. Senior diplomats representing the three countries met this week in Lisbon to discuss the future of the Karabakh peace process.

Armenian state television reported on Wednesday that the co-chairs will fly to the Estonian capital Tallinn next week to meet with Kocharian on the sidelines of his official visit to the Baltic state.

During the June 18 session of the Azeri Democratic Congress (reformers)–the statement of Azeri President Haydar Aliyev on the "Parisian principles" of the settlement of Karabakh conflict was discussed. The chairman of Azeri People’s Front party Ali Kerimli said that if such a document exists–the status of Nagorno Karabakh should be mentioned in it. "I do not believe that those principles concern only the Lachin and Meghri corridors," stressed Kerimli. He demanded the publication of the principles in order for the people to know what is going on. "If all this is not disclosed that we can assume that there is a danger of losing Karabakh," said Kerimli.

An irritated President Robert Kocharian accused his Azeri counterpart–Haydar Aliyev–on Tuesday of seeking to destabilize the political situation in Armenia with controversial remarks on Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. Kocharian said Aliyev hoped to fan opposition anger in Armenia when he claimed that Yerevan was ready to surrender the strategic Meghri district to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal on Karabakh.

"I guess they thought that they are thereby giving the [Armenian] opposition new material to conduct an active campaign against President Kocharian," he told reporters.

Kocharian further claimed that the Azeri leadership wants to "get rid" of him and deal with a new Armenian president who would be willing to make more concessions on Karabakh. He suggested that Baku was buoyed by the recent attempts in the Armenian parliament to impeach him.

After a year of denial–Aliyev on Friday admitted that he and Kocharian had finalized a framework agreement to end the Karabakh dispute at a meeting in Paris in March 2001. But he said the deal envisaged an exchange of territories whereby Azerbaijan would cede its Armenian-occupied Lachin district in exchange for Meghri.

Kocharian on Tuesday endorsed Armenian officials’ strong denial of the claims. "We talked only about a sovereign [Lachin] corridor between Armenia and Karabakh," he said. "As for Meghri–we were only talking about a road access [for Azerbaijan]."

Kocharian’s spokesman–Vahe Gabrielian–said over the weekend that the Paris agreement was "put on paper" at the subsequent peace held on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001 and that Aliyev backtracked on it shortly afterwards. Other senior Armenian sources told RFE/RL that Yerevan could ask US–Russian and French mediators to publicize the Key West document to prove that Aliyev "distorted facts."

However–Kocharian ruled out such a possibility for the time being. "We do have that document. But I think there is no need to make it public now," he said.

He also said his upcoming face-to-face meeting with Aliyev–prepared for the past several weeks–will go ahead despite the latter’s commen’s. "We are going to meet–to negotiate further. With less pleasure though," he said.

Armenia’s leading opposition parties had accused Kocharian in the past of planning to "sell out" Meghri. But few of them appear ready to revive the issue after Aliyev’s claims.

Meanwhile–a leading opposition party which has spearheaded the impeachment campaign against President Robert Kocharian said on Monday it is ready to cooperate with him for achieving a "pro-Armenian" solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Republic party indicated that it does not trust Azeri President Haydar Aliyev’s latest claims that Kocharian was ready last year to swap Armenians Meghri district for a land corridor with Karabakh – an idea highly unpopular in Armenia.


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