YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–International mediators claimed on Thursday to have made further progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but indicated that no Armenian-Azeri peace accords will be signed before Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election, as the Azeri president threatened war again.
The American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group held a joint news conference in Yerevan after several days of fresh negotiations with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Karabakh. They are due to complete their latest round of shuttle diplomacy on Friday with a follow-up meeting in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
“I think we agree that we sense both [the Armenian and Azerbaijani] presidents are moving in the same direction and have a common vision of what an agreement on the basic principles will look like,” said Matthew Bryza, Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair. “And I think both presidents realize that their counterpart is trying and is moving forward.”
Bryza had said last October that the mediating troika hopes Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian will reach a verbal “gentlemen’s agreement” on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement before the Armenian election scheduled for February 19.
But the US diplomat argued on Thursday that there is no need to set “artificial deadlines” for such an agreement now because Aliyev and Kocharian have proved their commitment to mutual compromise and need more time to clarify “every sentence, every word, every letter” in the framework peace deal formally proposed to them last November. “We sense that they are trying to finish the process as soon as possible,” he said.
Bernard Fassier, France’s chief Karabakh negotiator, implied that such a deal is unlikely to be formalized even before the presidential election due in Azerbaijan this fall. “If the parties’ final answer on the whole [Minsk Group] package comes before the Armenian presidential elections, that will be wonderful,” he said. “If it comes during the Armenian and Azerbaijani elections that will also be wonderful. If that happens after the Azerbaijani presidential elections, that will be wonderful too.”
The authorities in Baku and Yerevan are understood to have already agreed in principle on the main points of the Minsk Group’s current peace proposals. Those call for a phased resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would start with the liberation of Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed territory and the restoration of economic links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Karabakh would remain under Armenian control at least until a referendum of self-determination that would determine the territory’s final status, the main bone of contention.
Meanwhile, President Aliyev resumed his belligerent rhetoric telling a gathering of his countrymen in Aghdam region bordering Nagorno-Karabakh that the war with Armenia was not over yet.
“Although Armenia repeats from time to time that it has won the war, it is not true, as only the first phase of the war is over,” Aliyev told Thursday.
Aliyev cited increased military spending and steady economic growth as guarantees of bringing Nagorno-Karabakh back.
Aliyev claimed that in the past Armenia was ready to pull put its troops from four regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, seeing the growing economic might of Azerbaijan, he said, Yerevan is willing to return all seven regions.
According to Aliyev, this is evidence that Azerbaijan will soon attain to its ultimate goal. He further claimed that authorities in Yerevan realize well that time is not playing into their hands.
“Nagorno-Karabakh will never be independent. This is also supported by the international mediators. Armenia accepts, though unwillingly, this reality,” he was quoted by Trend news agency as saying.
In response, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vladimir Karapetian said,: “Judging from the volume and tone of commen’s from Azerbaijan’s President, there is a clear sense of desperation in Azerbaijan. After all, on all fronts, without any exception, Azerbaijan is either behind the international standard or going against prevailing international trends.”
He argued that recent positive assessmen’s of Armenia by the international community and negative ones of Azerbaijan within the same context, have prompted the Azeri leadership to increase its negative rhetoric and false information to divert public opinion from critical issues facing their country.