YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian insisted on Wednesday that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents did receive a freshly amended international plan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at their most recent meeting in Russia last month.
Official Yerevan has described it as a “new version” of the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement which were first formally put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators in Madrid in 2007.
According to Armenian officials, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presented the document to his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts during their June 17 talks in Saint Petersburg. The Azerbaijani side has denied this.
“During the meeting on June 17 in Saint Petersburg, a new version of the Madrid document was presented,” said Nalbandian. “So during the upcoming meeting in Almaty [of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers,] the big question will be whether Azerbaijan will continue negotiations on the basis of the new version of the Madrid document, as it was agreed at the June 17 meeting.”
Azerbaijani officials say the ongoing peace talks continue to center on another version of the Madrid principles that was submitted to the conflicting parties in December and January. They say Baku has accepted it with a number of “exceptions” and is still awaiting Yerevan’s positive response.
Nalbandian again dismissed these claims, saying that those exceptions outweigh provisions acceptable to Baku. “In effect, that means not accepting [the peace plan,]” he told a joint news conference with Poland’s visiting Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski
Nalbandian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, are expected to meet on the sidelines of an OSCE ministerial conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, which begins its work on Friday. The American, Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group hope that the talks will enable the parties to move further forward in their protracted search for peace.
Mammadyarov stated late last week that the Almaty meeting will focus on time frames for Armenian withdrawal from the Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. Yerevan swiftly denied that. Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian said Azerbaijan must first “accept Karabakh’s status in accordance with the results of an expression of the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s will.”
Armenian leaders say a key element of the Madrid principles is a future referendum in which Karabakh’s mainly ethnic Armenian population would decide whether to reaffirm its secession from Azerbaijan or return under Azerbaijani rule.
Mammadyarov insisted on Friday, however, the proposed framework accord contains no such provisions. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev echoed his foreign minister on Tuesday.
“In the issues discussed during the negotiations, there is and there can be no mechanism related to Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan,” Aliyev reportedly told a cabinet meeting in Baku. The Azerbaijani leadership will never agree to any settlement that would not lead to the restoration of Azerbaijan’s control over Karabakh, he said.
Aliyev also repeated his regular threats to win back the territory by force. “We must be prepared for the liberation of our lands from the occupiers at any moment,” he said. “I am absolutely sure that Azerbaijan has such capacity today.”