BAKU: Mann: Co-chairs try to bring elements of realism into NK

Azer Tag, Azerbaijan State Info Agency
Aug 18 2004

[August 18, 2004, 21:33:27]

The following is an exclusive interview given by US co-chair of the
Minsk group Ambassador Steven Mann to the Washington representative
of AzerTAj news agency Shafag Akifqizi.

– Mr. Mann, it has been 4 months since you have been appointed as a
Special Negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Do you think this
assignment brought anything new to the Minsk group or peace process?

I think there is no magic to the mediators, myself included. By
participating in the process, we demonstrate strong interests of our
governments in promoting a solution. But the bottom line, as always,
is that, it is up to the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia to
come through with the solution.

-The recent developments coming from the region are troublesome – the
so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic holds elections, conducts
military trainings on the occupied Azerbaijani territories. What’s
your reaction to that?

The State Department has already answered your question. I’d just
like to stand with the statement of Mr. Ereli – `we don’t recognize
Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country. Our position is to
support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We don’t believe
that these elections will have an impact on the Minsk process.’

-Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn’t seem to agree with you. They
are concerned, that Minsk co-chairs don’t react properly to some of
the developments going on in the region. They believe, that if
mediators don’t come up with clear position on issues like the
so-called elections or military training on the occupied territories
conducting by the separatists, the continuation of the whole
negotiation process may be jeopardized. Do you agree with that?

First of all, let me say that the Minsk group discussions at the
ministerial level are discussions, not negotiations. These
discussions are a serious effort among diplomatic professionals. And
we need to keep to that.

There are always going to be events in the region that are unpleasant
to one side or the other. This simply comes from the history of
conflicts. But a responsibility of all of us involved in the Minsk
process is to keep focused on the discussions themselves and the
development of the peaceful solution. Now, let me explain – why do we
do this? Why does Azerbaijan or Armenia do it? We don’t do these out
of any vague sense of courtesy or certain norms that we follow. All
of us are pursuing this out of our national interests. So, I think it
is a correct decision that president Aliyev has taken to participate
in the process and that is the decision based on Azerbaijan’s
national interests.

-Mr. Mann, you have stated that the US supports the territorial
integrity of Azerbaijan. Yet, your country never recognized Armenia
as an occupant. What is that holds you back?

Yes, of course. And I reaffirm that we support territorial integrity
of Azerbaijan. We have also made a point that the solution to the
Karabakh conflict must take into account wishes of all the people of
the area. As to your question, you shouldn’t forget what a mandate of
the Minsk group is. The Minsk group is not there to take sides. The
international community has recognized the conflict and decided to
support negotiations and mediate. The international community didn’t
give the Minsk group the mission to be a judge. That is not what our
instructions are from the international community. So, what we can do
is work as hard as we possibly can to look for those elements of
common ground between the two sides and try to bring elements of
realism into the discussions.

-Will the November elections in the US put the interest of your
country in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the background?

No, I don’t think so. The position of the US has been very consistent
year after year, administration after administration in this. The
elections in November are not going to affect the professional
diplomacy that we want to this conflict.

-As a Special Advisor on Caspian Basin Diplomacy, were you surprised
by the recent suspension of the construction on BTC pipeline?

Frankly, I was mildly surprised. We have been having discussions with
BTC Co and Georgian government for some months now. The officials of
new Georgian government had a lot of questions about the project.
But, we were surprised when we saw stop of work order This was the
subject of extensive discussion in president Saakashvili’s recent
visit to Washington. It has also been the subject of some real
productive work between Georgia and BTC Co. I’m feeling good about
where we have come out and, as you know, the construction has fully
resumed now on the Georgian section of the pipeline.

-Will the main export pipeline have a role to play in
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution?

Interestingly, I get asked this question in Armenia as well. The
answer is no, it will not. The issues are separate. Naturally, we all
wish that the conflict was settled, so that we could all have
region-wide cooperation. But the pipeline reflects not political, but
commercial realities in the region.

Washington, D.C.

August 17, 2004