BAKU (RFE/RL–AFP–Reuters)–International mediators trying to end the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute wound up their three-day tour of the conflict zone on Thursday–setting no date for the next meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents and warning that war-like rhetoric could trigger fresh fighting. Senior French–Russian and US diplomats co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group said after talks in Baku with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev that they are satisfied with the results of the trip but announced no further movement forward in the peace talks.
Speaking at a joint news conference–French ambassador to the OSCE Philippe de Suremain–his US counterpart Carey Cavanaugh and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said they will meet in Genoa from July 20-23 to decide on their next peace initiatives.
Aliev–chided by the mediators on Wednesday for threatening renewed fighting–insisted earlier in the day that hostilities around Karabakh could break out again if peace talks drag on much longer. "You shouldn’t be surprised if the process is put on hold and people call for a resumption of hostilities," he told the co-chairs.
"If the peace process stretches out over a long period–we could find that we are facing unforeseen events and that we are no longer in a situation to prevent a conflict."
However–the Azeri leader did say he will welcome the greater involvement of the Russian–French and US heads of state in seeking a settlement to the Karabakh conflict.
Suremain agreed with Aliev that "time is an important factor" if a settlement to the conflict is to be teased out. "It is urgent that we arrive at a settlement which allows foreign investors and the international community to bring help to this devastated region," the French diplomat said.
However–opinion in Azerbaijan about a peace settlement appears to be hardening.
"Peace should not come at the expense of Azerbaijan’s interests," said Gultakina Hajieva–deputy chair of the Azeri parliament’s international affairs committee. Hajieva–who is also a member of Aliev’s ruling party–added: "We prefer our land to any peace accord."
Since the cancellation of last month’s crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Geneva Aliev and officials in his government have come out with increasingly bellicose statemen’s about using force to take back Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani territories from the Armenia’s.
"It bothers us that some people in Baku talk about fighting," Cavanaugh said on Wednesday before crossing on foot a southern section of the Karabakh frontline together with his French and Russian counterparts.
The three mediators warned in a separate statement that the situation is "dangerously fragile."We are increasingly concerned that bellicose rhetoric–particularly notable in recent weeks–only exacerbates tensions and increases the risk of renewed conflict," the statement said. "Calls for a ‘military’ solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh are irresponsible."
Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian held four days of negotiations in the Florida resort of Key West in April. The mediators said afterwards the two sides are closer to peace than ever before. But both leaders appeared to get cold feet when they returned home and faced hardline public opinion.
"After they came home they realised that advancing the peace was not going to be easy," Cavanaugh told Reuters in Baku. "It changes the optimism level."
The mediators now say they are wary of pushing hard for a peace deal when the presidents have done little to prepare their peoples for compromise.
"As they get to the edge of peace–fighting can break out," said Cavanaugh. "Compromises can fall apart under public scrutiny. We will not push it to the extent that war breaks out again.