BAKU: Mediators See Major Progress Following Talks


AzerNews Weekly
May 13 2009

Various reports about Thursday`s round of talks on settling the Upper
(Nagorno) Garabagh conflict between the Azerbaijani and Armenian
presidents in Prague have caused observers to conclude that the
discussions were extremely tense but the sides achieved rapprochement
on numerous key issues regarding the peace process. Nonetheless,
the fact that the reports are differently-worded, depending on the
source of information and, at times, even conflicting, makes it rather
challenging to express an unequivocal opinion about the outcome.

Following the meeting of Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisian,
the OSCE mediators brokering the conflict settlement told the press
that the talks were constructive and their outcomes were promising. The
co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Yury Merzlyakov of Russia,
Bernard Fassier of France, and Matthew Bryza of the United States –
said in a statement that "significant progress" had been achieved in
narrowing the differences between the parties and that the discussions
"had brought the sides closer to a breakthrough."

"The presidents welcomed the co-chairs` plan to further intensify
their shuttle diplomacy to assemble all the elements required for a
breakthrough," said the joint statement, released after the mediators
organized a meeting of Presidents Aliyev and Sarkisian at the residence
of the US ambassador in Prague.

"The co-chairs look forward to their next trip to the region and
to prepare a further summit, as proposed to the presidents, in
St. Petersburg [on the sidelines of an informal CIS summit] in early
June. The co-chairs expect that these coming meetings will allow for
the concrete realization of a breakthrough on the Basic Principles
by the end of the year," noted the joint statement, which was posted
on the OSCE`s website.

The Basic Principles for a negotiated settlement of the long-standing
dispute were submitted by the mediators to Baku and Yerevan in the
Spanish capital Madrid in November 2007. The principles include
determination of the final status of Upper Garabagh, an Azerbaijani
region currently under Armenian occupation, through a nationwide poll
to be conducted during the final stage of the peace process.

This is possible after confidence is built between the sides,
including the gradual pullout of Armenian armed forces from the
occupied Azerbaijani territories, pledges on non-use of force, the
return of Azerbaijani refugees displaced by the armed conflict in
the early 1990s, and the resumption of trade and communications. The
Basic Principles represent the outcome of numerous meetings between
the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers launched in the Czech
capital in 2004 and dubbed the "Prague process."

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a lengthy war that ended with the
signing of a cease-fire in 1994, but Armenia continues to occupy
Upper Garabagh and seven other Azerbaijani districts in defiance of
international law. Azerbaijan is ready to grant the region the status
of a high autonomy within its territorial integrity, while Armenia
claims it should be granted independence.

US co-chair Bryza told Radio Liberty that the two countries` presidents
had agreed to the main ideas of a Garabagh settlement.

"Throughout my co-chairmanship in the Minsk Group, this meeting
was the most substantial one in terms of the essence of the issues
being discussed. Progress has been achieved in the past as well. But
this time – and the other co-chairmen agreed with me on that —
the presidents agreed on the main ideas of the complicated concept
of the basic settlement principles. In other words, the presidents
recommended that the co-chairs, jointly with the foreign ministers,
finalize work on detailing these ideas."

At the same time, the diplomat admitted that hard work on certain
details is still ahead to achieve a final agreement, as the two leaders
are adhering to a view that "so long as everything has not been agreed,
nothing is considered to have been agreed."

Further, Bryza emphasized that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents
are ready for mutual compromises. This, in his opinion, is clear from
their messages, which aim to shape public opinion about the conflict
resolution in their countries.

The Aliyev-Sarkisian talks lasted two and a half hours, though
previous meetings usually took three to four hours. This presidential
meeting was attended by Foreign Ministers Elmar Mammadyarov and
Eduard Nalbandian, the MG co-chairs, as well as Andrjej Kasprzyk,
the OSCE chairman`s special envoy. The broad talks were followed by
one-on-one discussions.

It is indicative that, amid outright optimism by the mediators,
a split has been observed in the conflicting sides` statements
regarding the outcome of the Prague talks. Yerevan believes that
their positions have drawn closer after the presidential meeting,
while Baku said no progress had been achieved.

"The presidents` meeting in Prague was prolific and brought the
positions of the sides closer on separate provisions of the Garabagh
settlement," the Armenian presidential statement claimed.

However, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told
journalists that "unfortunately, no advances were made at the meeting
of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents."

"I can`t say that any advances were achieved, and talks must be
continued. Discussions were held on complicated issues in Prague
but, unfortunately, Armenia, again, failed to be constructive,"
said Mammadyarov.

Novruz Mammadov, head of the Azerbaijan President`s Office
international relations department, has strongly criticized the
co-chairs, blaming them for spreading false information about the
current state of peace talks. He said Yerevan was very non-constructive
during the last presidential meeting.

"The Armenian side was unwilling to take even a step toward a
conflict settlement and once again demonstrated that it had claims
to Azerbaijani territories. Nonetheless, despite the lack of mutual
agreement, the co-chairs issued a statement supporting the position
of the Armenian leader, and, it turns out, that of their own, without
any prior consultations with the Azerbaijani president. Providing
erroneous information to the US president and secretary of state,
and the leaders of other states, they indicated that peace talks are
allegedly going very well and the positions of the sides are drawing
closer," Mammadov said.

"We don`t understand what the purpose of saying all this is. It seems
to me that all this once again shows that bias toward aggressor Armenia
persists and the process of defending its interests continues. On the
other hand, the co-chairs are interested in this process stalling,
for them to come and go on official trips and fulfill their duties,
as if this is their career. Or else, it could be that Mathew Bryza
[the US MG co-chairman], himself, has an interest in advancing his
career, his job, and so forth, by misinforming Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama. That`s the only presumption that comes to my mind."

According to sources close to diplomatic circles, the two presidents`
talks proceeded in a very complex environment, as Yerevan failed to
display flexibility and, on the contrary, toughened its position.

During the talks, the Armenian side again put forth the formula for
a peace process that had been discussed two years ago and rejected
by Azerbaijan. The sources did not elaborate which formula was in
question, but one may presume that it pertains to the determination
of Garabagh`s status through a referendum among the current residents
of the region, i.e. Armenians.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has confirmed that the latest
round of presidential talks proceeded in a complicated manner. The
Russian Echo Moskvi radio station quoted Kouchner as saying that a
number of misunderstandings remain between the conflicting sides.

"Each side is going its own way and reacts to the same pictures
differently. But this should not be a discouragement, as there is a
very long road ahead between Aliyev and Sarkisian."

Some Azerbaijani media have linked Yerevan`s toughening its stance
during the Prague talks with the recent Armenia-Turkey dialog. The
Armenian leadership`s stance on the Garabagh problem reportedly became
harsher after it had agreed upon a "roadmap" with Turkey, Azerbaijan`s
ally, with which it also faces long-standing tensions. This toughening,
as Azerbaijan has pointed out, is adversely affecting the peace

Of note, the Turkish media, which has been widely covering the
Prague meeting reported that, on the contrary, the Garabagh talks
made considerable progress and that the Ankara-Yerevan dialog is
moving the parties towards resolving the conflict.

The reports are based upon the meetings held by US mediator Bryza with
the Turkish foreign minister and deputy minister in Prague. Thus, the
co-chairman had informed Turkish diplomats about the course of Garabagh
talks following the Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting, while officials in Ankara
apparently leaked some information to the press after the meeting.

The Turkish reports suggest that the presidential meeting, despite
its being tense, was generally a round of talks that fostered some
rapprochement in the positions of Baku and Yerevan. Thus, the parties
reportedly considered, while in the Czech Republic, the future status
of Upper Garabagh, which has so far been one of the toughest sticking
points in the peace process. The reports claimed that the Azerbaijani
president had, for the first time, agreed to launch discussions on
how the status of the region will be determined. At the same time,
it was specifically emphasized that Baku did not mention the notion
of a referendum during the talks.

The Armenian president, in turn, agreed that after occupation of the
regions around Upper Garabagh ends, the status-quo will be maintained
in the region.

At the same time, Yerevan agreed to withdraw from five of seven
Azerbaijani districts it occupies in the initial stage and to pull
out of Kalbajar, another occupied region, five years after a peace
accord is reached.

As for Lachin, the remaining district around Upper Garabagh, this is
one of the two issues that are awaiting their solution in the course of
negotiations. This refers to an overland corridor that is to be created
to link Upper Garabagh with Armenian territory through Lachin. The
reports said that during further stages of the negotiating process
the parties are to strike a common ground on the status of the Lachin
corridor, its parameters and security. Further, the final and key part
of peace talks is to take place and a schedule is to be set for the
pullout of Armenian troops from the regions adjacent to Upper Garabagh
and the return of the displaced Azerbaijanis to their native lands.