YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a trilateral meeting with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on Friday to discuss details of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace accord proposed by Russia and other international mediators, raising speculation as to whether a possible Karabakh settlement is in the works.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan just days after Lavrov described as “very real” the chances for a “near-term solution” to the Karabakh conflict.
In a newspaper interview published on Tuesday, he said the conflicting parties need to work out only “two or three unresolved issues,” including the future of the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia to the disputed region.
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian was reported to comment ambiguously on Lavrov’s remarks after the Bishkek talks. “Regarding statemen’s that that key issues in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been agreed on, I have said and would like to repeat that the most important of those issues is Nagorno-Karabakh’s status, which should be determined by means of a free expression of the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s will,” Nalbandian told journalists, according to the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
“And if there are views that the key issues have been solved, then one can conclude that there is mutual understanding on those issues,” he said without elaboration.
“As for the opinion of some analysts that Armenia is in a disadvantageous position in the current stage of negotiations,” the Foreign Minister said he does not think those are serious analyses and are “more like unhealthy imagination.”
The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have been trying to get the parties to accept their proposed basic principles for a Karabakh peace that envisage a gradual settlement of the dispute. The mediators hope that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet again and finalize the framework peace deal before the end of this year. Such a meeting would most probably take place after Azerbaijan’s October 15 presidential election, which the incumbent Ilham Aliev is widely expected to win.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry cited Nalbandian as saying that the peace process will enter “a more active phase” and that “it will be possible to organize new meetings” after the vote. It gave no details of Nalbandian’s talks with Lavrov and Azerbaijan’s Elmar Mammadyarov.
In his interview on Tuesday, published by the Russian "Rossiiskaya Gazeta,“ Lavrov said the conflicting parties need to work out only “two or three unresolved issues,” including the future of the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
"There remain two or three unresolved issues which need to be agreed upon at the next meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan," Lavrov told the "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" daily. "Our understanding is that such meetings will take place shortly after the forthcoming [October 15] presidential elections in Azerbaijan."
But Lachin is now the main stumbling block in the peace talks, he said.
"As one of three mediators, we have a sense that an end is quite real," Lavrov said, adding that the two other mediating powers, the United States and France, also see a "very real chance" of a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
However, a top aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, struck a cautious note early this week as he commented on Lavrov’s upbeat statemen’s in Yerevan.
"Major issues have not been agreed upon," Novruz Mammadov told the Azeri Trend news agency on Tuesday.
Mammadov similarly pointed to the Lachin corridor as one of the major “unresolved issues within the Karabakh peace negotiations.”
"The sides have not reached an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor, as well as where to place peacemaking forces," Novruz Mammadov said, ahead of the Bishkek meeting, which Azeri officials earlier said would not be taking place.
The presidential advisor said the sides could not focus on the principles already agreed upon, since several of the issues remain uncoordinated.
“The statement made by Sergey Lavrov caused serious concern. The two sides [Russian, Armenian] have made similar statemen’s before, which have also caused grave concerns,” said Mammadov, reiterating Azerbaijan’s continued assertions that the conflict must be resolved in phases.
“It is not necessary to discuss or publicize the points that have been agreed upon, since they might damage the negotiation process. The issues on the table now are the more important issues and they will impact all other points discussed during the negotiations, added Mammadov.
“If Armenia fulfills all the responsibilities that it has been given then Armenia’s can live a better life,” said the advisor, who urged the Minsk Group and other international organizations to be fair in their approach to the Karabakh conflict since “Armenia has occupied 20 percent of its neighbor’s territory,” claimed Mammadov.
“The international community and [Minsk Group] co-chairs continue to take the proper position on this matter and that is wrong,” said Mammadov, adding that Azerbaijan has always advocated the right approach for the conflict resolution process.
Karabakh a Precondition toTurkey Relations
During his interview Lavrov also echoed Turkey’s calls for an immediate resolution of the Karabakh conflict prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia.
"It [Armenia] really has few geographic and political options. As soon as the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement becomes a fact, Turkey will be ready to help Armenia forge normal links with the outside world, naturally through the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan," said Lavrov who was interviewed by a "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" reporter late last week as he flew to Yerevan to meet with Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.
Lavrov was in Yerevan on a two-day trip that focused on the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war and the future of the Russian-Armenian relationship. Lavrov and his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian reaffirmed their government’s intention to strengthen its military and economic components.
After the talks with Nalbandian he sounded cautiously optimistic about prospects for a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process.
Lavrov said that Russia expects the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet again shortly after next week’s Azeri presidential election and reach a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh.
He stressed the importance of a Nagorno-Karabakh resolution and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations for Armenia’s security and economic development.
According to Lavrov, Armenia’should be keenly interested in a Karabakh resolution in the wake of the crisis in Georgia which he said exposed "the vulnerability of its position" and highlighted the importance of having an open border with Turkey. "Armenia has huge difficulties communicating with the outside world," he said. "It is in the fundamental interests of the Armenian people to unblock this situation as soon as possible.
Lavrov said that after the Russian-Georgian crisis, Turkey saw the "uniqueness of the moment" and the role it can play, as a neighbor to the Caucasus region to broker and actively involve itself in fostering stability in the region.