YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan–Turan) A senior member of the Azeri presidential administration Thursday told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the planned meeting in Geneva on Friday between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azeri President Haydar Aliyev was arranged at the urging of the US–which considers such meetings an important factor in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict.
Novruz Mamedov–who is head of the Foreign Relations Department of the presidential administration–also confirmed reports from Yerevan that US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has suggested additions to the most recent draft peace plan proposed by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group last November.
Albright wrote to both Kocharian and Aliyev following the meeting between the two presidents in Washington in late April. Mamedov said that Albright’s suggestions were almost identical to the principles set out at the 1996 OSCE summit in Lisbon–and which Azerbaijan considers as the basic principles on which a solution to the conflict must be based. Mamedov said that the sole new element in Albright’s suggestions concerned the repatriation of refugees and internally displaced persons.
Asked whether the Geneva meeting meant that Russia has been temporarily excluded from the Karabakh peace process–Mamedov said that "I do not think we can say that Russia is out of the game. We always take into consideration the opinion of our powerful northern neighbor in the question of the Karabakh conflict and other issues concerning the post-Soviet space."
Naira Melkumian–Foreign Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic–told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service by telephone from Stepanakert Thursday that she considers Mamedov’s statemen’s concerning new proposals by US Secretary of State Albright "a product of the Azeri propaganda machine."
Asked why the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia are meeting to discuss a solution to the Karabakh conflict without Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Arkady Ghoukassian–Melkumian said she believes the Geneva talks will address that question.
She said the Karabakh needs Kocharian to persuade Aliyev to agree to talks between all three parties to the conflict. She said that as long as the most recent proposal by the Minsk Group co-chairmen remains on the table–Karabakh’s negotiating position remains unchanged.
Noyan Tapan–quoting the MPA news agency reported that in an interview Mamedov–reiterated his aforementioned statement–adding–however–that Azerbaijan was aiming to change Russia’s position on the conflict and urge that it remain objective in the peace process.
Meanwhile in Baku–the Turan news agency reported that Azeri Presidential Advisor Vafa Guluzade has put forth a proposal that NATO participate in settling the Karabakh conflict.
In an article submitted to the Los Angeles-based Armenian International Magazine–Guluzade drew a parallel between the situations in Kosovo and Karabakh. The executive is the second state official in Azerbaijan after Defense Minister Safar Abiyev who has made this observation.
In his article–Guluzade wrote that the indigenous populations of Kosovo and Karabakh (Albanians and Azeris–respectively) are victims of ethnic purges. Almost a million Azeris (like Kosovo Albanians) have been driven from their homes and have ended up in camps. 20 percent of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan is occupied by the Armenian army. Despite resolutions of the UN Security Council Nos. 822–853–874–and 884 (1993) demanding the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the occupied territories–the Armenia’s do not seem to care less.
The conflict in Kosovo was purely ethnic–but the Karabakh conflict is essentially international: Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting for the mountainous part of the Karabakh region. Bearing in mind that Armenia occupies both Karabakh and considerable territories around it–it is no less than an open armed aggression against a sovereign state (Azerbaijan).
With Russia’s involvement–the conflict is truly international–Guluzade said.
If the Kosovo option were played out in this region–NATO would offer a method of settlement to both warring parties like it offered a plan to Milosevic in France. This would boil down to granting a high level of self-rule to Nagorno-Karabakh on the condition of preservation of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the immediate return of all Azeri refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh and the remaining seven districts of the country which are currently occupied by Armenia’s.
Armenia’should be given an ultimatum: the immediate withdrawal of its armed formations from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan–deployment of a NATO contingent–and ensuring the safe return of Azeri families. If Yerevan objects–its armed formations will be air-raided. Guluzade is confident that Azerbaijan would be quite justified to authorize such an operation on its own territory.
In this case Russia–as an ally of Armenia which has military bases on the territory of that country–should forsake its functions as an ally and participate in the peacekeeping operation as it is now doing in Kosovo. Guluzade believes that no air-raids and missile strikes against Armenia will be needed–because it is very unlikely to have the stamina to wage a war against NATO and Russia’simultaneously.