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Nagorno-Karabakh: Standstill, Time-Out, Stalemate, Or Deadlock?

  • Liz Fuller --> Oskanian: "Azerbaijan is showing clear signs of a change of position" (OSCE) June 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Visiting Yerevan on June 5, Spanish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos told journalists that there were grounds to anticipate progress toward resolving the 19-year Karabakh conflict at imminent talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Echoing similarly upbeat statements over the preceding weeks by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate between the conflict sides, Moratinos declared that "the parties today are close to a settlement," and urged the two sides to "take the important moment to achieve progress in the negotiations."

In the event, however, the three-hour talks between Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the CIS summit in St. Petersburg on June 9 failed to yield any progress toward overcoming the most serious remaining points of disagreement between the two sides. And on June 20, the two sides implicitly blamed each other for that failure.

Even before the St. Petersburg meeting, the Minsk Group co-chairmen switched tack and downplayed the remarks by Moratinos. The U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, said that while the extent of the remaining differences between the two sides is narrowing, "we cannot say that this time we expect a turning point in St. Petersburg," according to Noyan Tapan on June 7.

Points Of Contention

Two days earlier, the Azerbaijani online daily quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as saying that of the eight "basic principles" for resolving the conflict that are on the table, and that were made public last year by the Minsk Group co-chairs only "one or two" are still the subject of major disagreement.

After the St. Petersburg talks, both Mammadyarov and his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian admitted that the two sides failed to make progress, but declined to explain the reasons for that failure or to specify the nature of the remaining points of contention.

But a diplomatic source close to the talks told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the two presidents disagreed on the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. That source said Aliyev insisted that that final status not be mentioned in the interim peace accord, while Armenia insists that accord provide for the holding of a referendum among the unrecognized republic's population.

On June 20, speaking at a joint press conference in Yerevan with NATO's special representative for the South Caucasus, Robert Simmons, Oskanian implicitly blamed Azerbaijan for the lack of headway in St. Petersburg. "Azerbaijan is showing clear signs of a change of position, a tendency to renege on some agreements," RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted Oskanian as saying. He added, however, that "we have to wait and watch Azerbaijan's further steps to judge whether there is a toughening of its position or a broader policy change."

He further rejected as untrue claims by Azerbaijani First Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov that the reason the St. Petersburg talks failed to yield the hoped-for breakthrough was that Armenia asked for a time-out.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry responded with a statement, carried later on June 20 by, accusing Oskanian of seeking to off-load the blame for the lack of progress in the talks, implying that Armenia itself was the obstacle. The statement further affirmed that Azerbaijan responded "very constructively" to the most recent proposals put forward by the co-chairs during their most recent tour of the region. (The French co-chair, Bernard Fassier, confirmed after the St. Petersburg talks that the co-chairs have proposed new approaches, but did not give any details.)

Next Move?

Given the confidentiality that surrounds the negotiating process, determining the seriousness of the remaining disagreements and the true reason for the lack of a "breakthrough" in St. Petersburg is difficult, if not impossible. Commentators on the Karabakh negotiating frequently tend to use interchangeably the terms "time-out," "standstill" (which does not preclude the resumption of talks at any time); "deadlock" (which implies that both sides are either unable or unwilling to maneuver or make concessions); and "stalemate" (which in chess implies that one partner is at a mortal disadvantage, with the king able only to move into check).

Which term is most appropriate to the current situation, only the negotiators and the mediators can say. Oskanian on June 20 explicitly rejected Azerbaijani claims that Armenia has taken a time-out. And the fact that the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on June 20 reaffirmed its commitment to "continuing talks on the basis of the co-chairs' most recent proposals" suggests that the present hiatus reflects a standstill, rather than deadlock. Baku may, after all, simply be marking time and waiting for the outcome of next month's presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unknown Victims

Ethnic Armenians displaced by fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1980s (Photolur)

HOW MANY MISSING? Well over a decade after conflicts in the South Caucasus froze, the International Committee of the Red Cross says new cases of missing people continue to emerge. Significant progress will, it fears, have to wait for final peace agreements.
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