Armenia, Azerbaijan Agree To Resume Direct Talks

By Emil Danielyan

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Oct 3 2006

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Moscow
on Friday for face-to-face peace talks that could be followed by
another crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Nagorno-Karabakh,
international mediators said on Tuesday.

The senior French, Russian and U.S. diplomats co-chairing the OSCE
Minsk Group made the announcement after talks with the leaders of the
two nations. They were in Baku on Monday and are scheduled to meet
with the Armenian leadership of Karabakh in Stepanakert on Wednesday
in their latest round of shuttle diplomacy.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Yerevan, the mediators said
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar
Mammadyarov will likely hold another round of negotiations next week
in an attempt to kick-start the deadlocked peace process.

In the words of Bernard Fassier, the group’s French co-chair,
the two ministers will specifically look into the possibility of
organizing yet another meeting of their presidents. Fassier and his
American and Russian colleagues refused to speculate on the chances
of a breakthrough.

"We are not saying that we are on the verge of a grand breakthrough
or that the difficult problems have gotten any easier," said, Matthew
Bryza, the U.S. co-chair. "But we do sense a willingness by the sides
to think in a deeper way and to look for a way to move ahead."

Oskanian and Mammadyarov were already scheduled to meet in New York
late last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Oskanian
effectively cancelled the meeting in protest against the assembly’s
decision to discuss the conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the
former Soviet Union during its ongoing session. Armenia is strongly
opposed to any UN involvement in Karabakh talks.

The issue was included on the assembly agenda at the insistence of
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova that make up a loose grouping
of former Soviet republics known as GUAM. They are expected to submit
a relevant resolution to the body this fall.

Bryza indicated that the United States will oppose any GUAM resolutions
that would blame the Armenian side and run counter to the main points
of a framework peace deal disclosed by the Minsk Group in June. "If
the GUAM states put forward a resolution that is not balanced, that is
not fair, that is accusatory or simply doesn’t call for a settlement
based on the basic principles we’ve articulated, it won’t be helpful
and we won’t like it," he said.

The mediators favor a gradual resolution of the Karabakh dispute that
would lead to a referendum on the disputed enclave’s status after the
liberation of surrounding Azerbaijani districts controlled by Armenian
forces. They made it clear on Tuesday that this formula remains at
the heart of their revised peace proposals. "We still believe that
our basic principles that we have articulated provide the best hope
for a fair, just and lasting settlement," said Bryza.

Presidents Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia
were widely expected to accept those principles as a basis for a more
comprehensive peace accord during two rounds of intensive negotiations
earlier this year. However, the talks yielded no agreement, all
but dashing hopes for the conflict’s settlement before the end of
this year.

Aliev has since repeatedly ruled out any settlement that would stop
short of restoring Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. He reportedly
reaffirmed this stance in an address to the Azerbaijani parliament
on Monday. Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying that Baku is under
pressure to accept a deal "contradicting the interests of our people."

"Some forces wonder why the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has still
not be solved," Aliev said, according to the Trend news agency. "This
is so because we are not opting for agreements that are not acceptable
to us."

Bryza refused to comment on this, saying that there are discrepancies
between remarks attributed to the Azerbaijani leader by various
Azerbaijani media outlets.

Aliev was also quoted by Agence France Presse as also pledging to
"increase pressure on Armenia." "Otherwise they are not likely to give
back our territories. We must be ready for war," he said, according
to the French news agency.

Bryza reiterated in that regard the mediators’ view that "there is
no military settlement to the Karabakh conflict."

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