LISBON (RFE/RL)–The leaders of NATO’s 28 member states singled out Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity as the guiding principle of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s resolution in a weekend declaration denounced by Armenia but welcomed in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL’s Armenian service reported Monday.
A senior Azerbaijani official on Monday portrayed that as further proof that Armenia is an “aggressor state.” Leading Armenian opposition groups were also quick to pounce on what they called a serious diplomatic setback for Yerevan.
The wide-ranging declaration adopted at a NATO summit held in Lisbon on Saturday, says: “We remain committed in our support of the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, and will also continue to support efforts towards a peaceful settlement of these regional conflicts, taking into account these principles.”
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian boycotted the summit in protest against this general reference to unresolved ethnic disputes in the former Soviet Union. His spokesman, Armen Arzumanian, warned on Friday that it will complicate international efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict.
Arzumanian argued that United States and another key NATO member, France, advocate a Karabakh settlement based on territorial integrity and two other internationally recognized principles: peoples’ right to self-determination and non-use of force. A combination of these principles is at the heart of a framework peace accord put forward by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
NATO officials have still not reacted to Sarkisian’s dramatic move. Armenia was represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian.
The two ministers attended only a session of the summit devoted to the situation in Afghanistan. Nalbandian did not mention Karabakh in his speech at that meeting.
The Azerbaijani government did not officially react to the Lisbon declaration. Still, the deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Mubariz Gurbanli, hailed it as “quite significant.”
“The adoption of this document is an open message to circles infringing on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, and it confirms that Armenia is an aggressor state,” Gurbanli told the APA news agency. He called it a “success for our diplomacy.”
Representatives of Armenia’s leading opposition forces likewise described the NATO declaration as a serious blow to the Armenian position on the Karabakh conflict.
Giro Manoyan, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. said the declaration shows the Sarkisian administration has failed to boost Armenia’s standing in the West despite his policy of rapprochement with Turkey. “The fact is that that standing is not quite high because they just don’t listen to our views,” he told RFE/RL.
Manoyan added that Yerevan should retaliate by formally annulling the Western-backed Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols signed a year ago. “This is yet another occasion for Armenia to withdraw its signature from the protocols with Turkey so that they start treating us seriously in NATO,” he said.
A parliament deputy from Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia insisted, meanwhile, that the NATO support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not a setback for Yerevan. Gagik Melikian argued that both the U.S. and France stand by the Minsk Group’s existing peace plan that upholds the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.
“I don’t consider this a diplomatic defeat,” Melikian told a news conference on Saturday. “On the contrary, I consider this yet another important and positive step on the path to our diplomatic victory.”
Manoyan, however, suggested that it will not have a “fundamental impact” on the Karabakh peace process.
The mediating powers and Russia in particular hope that Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev will bridge their differences over the peace formula proposed by the Minsk Group co-chairs in time for the summit.
In an apparent effort to nudge the conflicting parties closer to a long-waited peace deal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted fresh talks between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Moscow on Monday. Official sources in the three countries gave no details of the meeting.
Nalbandian and Azerbaijan’s Elmar Mammadyarov already had a brief conversation on the sidelines of the Lisbon summit.