Envoy Vague On Reported U.S. Push For Karabakh Peace

Envoy Vague On Reported U.S. Push For Karabakh Peace
By Hrach Melkumian and Karine Kalantarian 18/06/2004 11:14

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
June 18 2004

U.S. Ambassador John Ordway stopped short Thursday of explicitly
confirming or refuting reports that the United States is pushing for
a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would require an
Armenian pullout from occupied Azerbaijani lands before agreement on
the disputed region’s status.

Armenian opposition leaders and some media have claimed over the past
week that Washington has suggested that Azerbaijan lift its economic
blockade of Armenia in exchange for getting back three of its seven
districts surrounding Karabakh which were occupied by Armenian forces
during the 1991-94 war. They said the plan was put forward by Steven
Mann, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, during a visit to
Yerevan late last month.

The speculation was heightened by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s
talks in Washington this week with U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell and President George W. Bush’s top national security adviser,
Condoleeza Rice. The U.S. State Department said Karabakh topped the
agenda of the talks.

Asked by RFE/RL to comment on the claims, Ordway said: “The [U.S.,
French and Russian] co-chairs have not made any specific proposals in
this most recent round of discussions and negotiations. Normally it’s
not my role or responsibility to comment on the work of the co-chairs.
So I think that’s the best answer I can provide to you and still
not start going into the details of the negotiations, which is not
appropriate for me to do.”

“But if [my interpreter] has done his job and you look at it very
carefully, I think you will find the answer to your question,” he
added without elaborating.

Azerbaijani officials had said earlier that the conflicting parties and
the international mediators are discussing the possibility of reverting
to the so-called “step-by-step” strategy of conflict resolution,
preferred by Baku. Armenian officials have not explicitly denied this,
while making it clear that they still stand for a “package” peace
accord on all contentious issues, including Karabakh’s status. Oskanian
and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mamedyarov, are scheduled to
meet in Prague on June 21 for the third time this year.

Ordway said it is up to the conflicting parties to choose between
the package and phased formulas. “Either variant would be fine with
us if it produced a settlement,” he said.

The Prague talks will take place against the backdrop of an escalation
of tension on the westernmost section of the heavily militarized border
between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian military has reported
that one of its officers was shot dead in a clash with Azerbaijani
forces last week. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry admitted on Wednesday
that its troops also sustained casualties.

“But the enemy suffered more,” the ministry spokesman, Ramiz Melikov,
told RFE/RL. “We don’t want to talk about numbers. They are not
important.” Melikov denied Armenian claims that the Azerbaijani army
violated the regime of ceasefire in the area by occupying a hill
in a no-man’s land overlooking a major water reservoir in Armenia’s
northeastern Tavush region.

But Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, chief of the Armenian army
staff, insisted on Yerevan’s version of events according to which
Armenian units had to dig in closer to the Azerbaijani positions to
forestall any damage to a facility which pumps irrigation water to
nearby villages. Harutiunian was due to visit Tavush later on Thursday.

Ordway described the fighting as “very worrisome” and urged both
sides to exercise “restraint.”