Baku Says Time Needed To Discuss New Minsk Group Proposal

BAKU SAYS TIME NEEDED TO DISCUSS NEW MINSK GROUP PROPOSAL
By Fariz Ismailzade

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
Dec 12 2007

The new proposal from the OSCE’s Minsk group, put forward to the
foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan at last week’s OSCE
summit in Madrid, needs to be studied in more detail by expert groups,
according to Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov (ANS TV,
December 11). A similarly cautious statement came from the Foreign
Ministry press secretary, Khazar Ibrahim, "All principles must
be agreed upon in order to be able to talk about some sort of an
agreement. If one principle is remaining, it means that no agreement
is reached" (Day.az, December 10).

Official Baku has not made any positive remarks about this latest
proposal, showing instead signs of indifference or perhaps fatigue
with the repeated cycle of developments around the Armenia-Azerbaijan
conflict over Karabakh. This is not the first time that the OSCE Minsk
group has proposed a draft settlement agreement only to have it later
be rejected by one of the parties to the conflict. In the late 1990s,
three such proposals were laid on the table, called, respectively,
a "package deal," the "step-by-step proposal," and a "unified state"
proposal. All three were rejected.

Local experts believe that no matter what is written about the latest
proposal, it will be shelved as well. Vafa Guluzadeh, one of the most
experienced diplomats of Azerbaijan and a former advisor to Presidents
Abulfaz Elchibey and Heydar Aliyev, sarcastically said in his latest
interview with Day.az, "Even if Azerbaijan is elected as the head of
UN and I am elected the UN Secretary General, nobody will return our
lands. They must be taken by force."

Nevertheless, some Azerbaijani media outlets are celebrating a
victory with the latest proposal, because of the Armenian reaction
to it. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, while commenting
on the proposal, said that it falls short of the maximum interests
of both sides. Etibar Mammadov, chief analyst for state-owned AZTV,
commented that with this statement, Oskanian has admitted that
"independence" for Karabakh is not on the table, since independence
is the "maximum" demand of the Armenian side. Opposition parties,
however, criticized the talks, calling them treason, and saying,
"These negotiations do not meet the national interest of Azerbaijan"
(Yeni Musavat, Azadliq, December 4).

It is clear that both countries’ leaderships are under intense
pressure from the international community to agree on at least the
common framework for the resolution of the conflict before the year
2008 begins and presidential elections take place in both countries.

It will be extremely hard for either side to make concessions during
the election campaigns.

Meanwhile, last month the prestigious International Crisis Group
presented its new report on the Karabakh conflict, warning the
international community that, under current conditions, a resumption
of military activities is not only a possibility, but that the chances
for this are rising year-by-year.

Pundits now wonder what exactly is on the table of discussion and
what is included in the latest proposal. Novruz Mammadov, head of
the Azerbaijani president’s international relations department, told
media representatives that nothing new is included. Although Ibrahim
did not reveal any details, it was clear from his statements that the
issue under discussion is the step-by-step approach to the resolution
of the conflict: first the liberation of Azerbaijani regions outside
of Karabakh; next, the return of Azerbaijani displaced persons to
their homes; and finally a decision on the status of Karabakh itself.

If so, this must be considered a small diplomatic victory for Baku,
which has always lobbied for the step-by-step solution to the conflict.

Experts have long advocated a referendum as the optimal way to
determine the final status of Karabakh, but Azerbaijani officials have
refuted these rumors, saying that if such a vote is ever conducted,
it will be nation-wide referendum rather than one just in the disputed
territories.

Deputy Foreign Minister Azimov also noted that Karabakh could
be given a special status, but normal relations must first be
established between the two communities and infrastructure must be
restored in the occupied territories (Novosti-Azerbaijan, December
20). Interestingly enough, the World Bank made a statement on Tuesday,
December 11, expressing its readiness to provide financial resources
for reconstruction efforts in the war-torn areas, should a peace
agreement be reached. International financial institutions offered
similar incentives during the Key West (Florida) talks in 2001.

In all probability the excitement over the new proposals will die out
soon, and the public in both countries will focus on more pressing
domestic developments, such as the upcoming presidential elections
and continuing price hikes.

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