Mediating Powers Make New Push For Karabakh Peace

Emil Danielyan

The Jamestown Foundation
December 11, 2009

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,
Edward Nalbandian of Armenia, and Elmar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan at
the meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Athens, Dec. 1, 2009.

(OSCE) The United States, Russia and France have again stepped up their
efforts to broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Top diplomats
from the three mediating powers urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to hammer
out a framework peace accord "as soon as possible" after intensive
Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks held on the sidelines of the OSCE’s
December 1-2 ministerial meeting in Athens. French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner was reportedly confident that a deal could be reached
in the coming months. His optimism was called into question, however,
by the conflicting parties’ continuing different public interpretations
of peace proposals made by the American, French and Russian co-chairs
of the OSCE’s so-called Minsk Group on Karabakh.

The Athens talks came just over a week after Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev held
their sixth face-to-face meeting this year in Munich. In a statement
posted on the OSCE website on November 23, the Minsk Group co-chairs
described the meeting as "constructive." "In some areas, progress
was made. At the same time, some issues still remain open," they said
without elaboration.

Addressing a convention of his Republican Party of Armenia on November
28, Sargsyan cautioned that the negotiating process "may take years."

But he also stressed: "The current stage of the conflict’s resolution
gives me reason to hope that we could bring it to a logical conclusion
within a reasonable period of time" (Armenian Public Television,
November 28).

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and his Azerbaijani
counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, followed up on the Munich summit
by holding bilateral talks and separate meetings with the three
co-chairs in Athens on November 30 and December 1. The two-day
flurry of diplomatic activity culminated in their joint session
with Kouchner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Deputy
Secretary of State James Steinberg. An ensuing five-party statement
() said that Nalbandian and Mammadyarov
reaffirmed their countries’ "commitment to work intensively to resolve
the remaining issues" preventing their acceptance of the "basic
principles" of a Karabakh settlement that were formally put forward by
the mediators in Madrid in November 2007. It said the mediating powers
had urged Baku and Yerevan to "complete this work as soon as possible."

The foreign ministers of the 51 other OSCE member states strongly
backed the call at the end of the two-day meeting in the Greek
capital. "We urge the parties to sustain the positive dynamic of
the negotiations and strongly support their commitment to finalize
the basic principles on the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh
conflict, based on the Madrid document in order to begin drafting
a comprehensive peace agreement in good faith and without delay,"
read a joint ministerial statement adopted at the conference
( 41849_en.pdf.html).

Kouchner was particularly optimistic that Baku and Yerevan will soon
overcome what the mediators have repeatedly described as their "few
remaining differences" related to the Madrid document. "I am confident
it will be done. Immediately? No. In the coming months? Yes," he told
journalists (Trend, December 1). "Now is the time to make decisions,"
the French minister appealed to the two parties in a speech at the
OSCE conference earlier in the day.

The so-called Madrid principles, disclosed by the mediators in general
terms, call for a phased settlement of the Karabakh conflict that would
start with a gradual liberation of the seven districts in Azerbaijan,
which were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces
during the 1991-1994 war. In return, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian
population would be able to determine the disputed enclave’s status
in a legally binding referendum. Armenian-Azerbaijani disagreements
have until now centered on crucial practical modalities of the proposed
referendum, the timetable for Armenian troop withdrawal as well as the
legal status of a future land corridor between Karabakh and Armenia.

The parties have raised more questions about their ability
to iron out those differences by offering, at least in public,
conflicting interpretations of both the proposed settlement and the
Karabakh-related documents adopted during the OSCE gathering. The
five-party statement, for example, made clear that a peace deal should
be based on a combination of the internationally recognized principles
of non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity of
states and self-determination of peoples. Nalbandian touted this as
a major achievement for the Armenian side, saying that Azerbaijan
for the first time formally accepted the Karabakh Armenians’ right
to self-determination (Aravot, December 2).

However, Mammadyarov insisted on the restoration of Azerbaijani
control over the territory in his speech at the OSCE forum. "Providing
self-governance for Karabakh within Azerbaijan will be a just and
durable solution," he said (, December 2).

Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, likewise said
that Baku can only settle for a "broad autonomy" for Karabakh. "It is
openly indicated in the Madrid principles that the Armenian community
of Karabakh can decide its fate, together with the Azerbaijanis living
there, within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,"
he claimed (, December 5).

Armenian leaders maintain that the Karabakh Armenians would be able
to vote for independence, reunification with Armenia or return under
Azerbaijani rule in the would-be referendum, a claim that is privately
confirmed by some Western diplomats privy to the peace process. Just
how the warring sides can reconcile these opposite visions of
Karabakh peace is still unclear. Despite the lingering uncertainty
and confusion, Mammadov seemed to suggest that Kouchner’s optimism
on the peace prospects is not unfounded. "I think that when making
such a statement [Kouchner] comprehensively analyzed all processes
and substantiated his position," the Azerbaijani official said.