Analysis: Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Resume Karabakh Ta

Analysis: Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Resume Karabakh Talks
By Liz Fuller

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
May 11 2004

On 12 May, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vartan
Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, will meet for the second time within
one month to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict.
Two weeks earlier, the presidents of the two countries, Robert
Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, held similar talks on the sidelines of
the European Economic Summit in Warsaw (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 29
April 2004).

Oskanian on 30 April quoted Kocharian as saying he believes his talks
with Aliyev in Warsaw “can really contribute to finding common ground
for the basis of negotiations at future meetings,” RFE/RL’s Armenian
Service reported. Oskanian added that “there will be clear instructions
from the presidents to the foreign ministers regarding putting the
negotiations on a certain basis. So we see positive movement and
believe there will be a continuation.”

That formulation suggests that the Warsaw talks clarified the
Azerbaijani negotiating position. In an interview published in the
“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” following his 16 April talks with
Mammadyarov in Prague, Oskanian said that meeting failed to shed any
light on how seriously a statement made by Mammedyarov’s predecessor,
Vilayat Guliev, in February should be taken. Guliev had advocated
beginning talks again from zero (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 13 February
2004). Oskanian told the German daily he believes Guliev’s statement
was intended purely for internal Azerbaijani consumption.

Neither Oskanian nor Kocharian has given any indication of what issues
were discussed during their respective talks with their Azerbaijani
counterparts. But Mammadyarov told AFP on 30 April that the two sides
are discussing the withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven districts
of Azerbaijan bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
in exchange for the restoration of rail communication between the two
countries. “The subject of our negotiations right now is how ready
the sides are to make compromises,” AFP quoted Mammadyarov as saying.

Ilham Aliyev said on 7 May that the proposal that Armenian forces
withdraw from the seven districts in return for the resumption of
rail communication originated in Baku, and was not suggested by
the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group,
which has been attempting to mediate a solution of the conflict
for the past 12 years. The EU initially included in a resolution
on the South Caucasus adopted earlier this year a demand for the
withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Agdam, Djabrail, Fizuli,
Gubadly, and Zangelan districts of Azerbaijan in return for the
restoration of rail communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia,
but Oskanian at the time rejected that approach, and the demand
was dropped before the final version of the resolution was passed
(see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 30 January, 3 and 27 February, and 1 March
2004). It is not clear why, having rejected earlier this year the
initial EU proposal to withdraw from five districts, the Armenian side
should now be prepared to discuss withdrawing from seven districts,
as the Azerbaijani officials claim.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Kazimirov, who served in mid-1990s as the Russian
co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, has again slammed Armenia’s
stated preference for a “package” solution to the conflict that
would simultaneously resolve all contentious issues. In an interview
published on 30 April in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Kazimirov said a
package solution to such a complex conflict is “impossible,” and
that continued insistence on it “will only freeze the situation and
lead the mediation into a blind alley.” Instead, Kazimirov argued,
it would be more advisable to begin the search for a solution with
comparatively minor points.

In a second article, published in “Vremya novostei” on 7 May, Kazimirov
argued that it is important to reestablish a mechanism for constant
contacts between the two sides. He pointed out that the presidents of
the two countries “cannot meet that often, and one should not place the
entire responsibility for concessions on them personally.” Similarly,
Kazimirov continued, the foreign ministers also have numerous other
responsibilities. Therefore, he concluded, it would be better for each
side to choose a delegation that would concentrate exclusively on the
Karabakh conflict. In addition, he argued that the leadership of the
unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be included in talks on
“general issues” related to a solution of the conflict. Azerbaijan,
however, has consistently rejected any Karabakh representation at
peace talks.

Kazimirov suggested that the renewed peace talks should focus
simultaneously on four issues on the principle of “territory
for security.” Those four issues are: strengthening the existing
cease-fire and precluding a resumption of hostilities; removing the
root of the conflict by addressing the future status of Karabakh;
removing the consequences of the conflict by withdrawing Armenian
forces from the occupied Azerbaijani districts, demining operations,
and the return of displaced persons to their homes; and what he terms
“elementary measures to reduce tension and normalize relations.”
Kazimirov acknowledged, however, that progress on the second and
third issues would be slow.