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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Armenian Minister Says New Zealand Model 'Could Resolve Karabakh Issue'

  • Ben Partridge

London, 19 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said some tiny islands off the coast of New Zealand could provide a model for a settlement of his country's long-running dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

He spoke to journalists in London yesterday at the end of a four-day visit to Britain that included talks last night with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on Nagorno-Karabakh and other issues.

Oskanian noted that the international Minsk Group -- which is mediating in the dispute -- recently introduced the idea of creating a "common state" as a way of breaking the deadlock.

He said a model for such a state are the Niue islands in the South Pacific. The Niue are not an independent state -- nor an autonomous one -- but have an association agreement with New Zealand. The Micronesian islands' relationship with the U.S. is another model.

Oskanian welcomed what he called the Minsk Group's "non-standard approach" to a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.

He said the "common state" notion is a way to overcome the major obstacle to a settlement, which are disagreements over principles of territorial integrity and self-determination.

However, he noted that Baku has objected that a common state would not preserve the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have long been at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that broke with Baku's rule in 1991. Armenians and Azeris fought a war over the territory that ended with a fragile truce in 1994.

Oskanian said yesterday that he and Cook drew some parallels in their talks last night with the situation in Kosovo.

"The main focus was Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo. The foreign secretary informed me about the latest developments and the prospect for a peaceful resolution. I informed him about the situation in the (Caucasus) region, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, where we stand today, and explained our position. The conclusion was that we need to adopt creative approaches to the resolution of the conflict, under present circumstances."

Oskanian said Armenia and the Karabakh Armenians made a key concession by dropping the idea of independence and unification, so Azerbaijan should drop its insistence on autonomy.

Oskanian said Nagorno Karabakh will never return to its 1988 status as an autonomous state within Azerbaijan.

Oskanian told journalists yesterday that the situation in the Caucasus region is "pretty volatile, very tense" with "back and forth allegations of a military buildup from both sides."

He said a call for Turkish bases in Azerbaijan is of great concern to Yerevan because -- if the deployment goes ahead -- this would upset the balance in the region and threaten the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire.

He said: "This concerns us a lot because we do know that Turkish experts have gone to Baku and deliberations are going on." Azerbaijan has objected to the presence of Russian bases in Armenia, saying that Russian weapons could be used if the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flares once again into war.

But Oskanian said the Russian bases are not directed at any third country and -- under an agreement with Moscow -- Russian arms cannot be used against Azerbaijan since it is a CIS country.

Oskanian said his country is pinning some hope on an upcoming visit to the Caucasus by the foreign minister of Norway in his capacity as present chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"We want to make use and reconcile all the competing elements in the region and make Armenia a point where interests will reconcile rather than clash."

He said Armenia is moving closer to the European Union and expects a partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU to come into force some time next month. Germany -- which holds the rotating presidency of the EU -- has invited the presidents of the three Caucasus republics to Luxembourg to launch their agreements.

He said Armenia has set itself the long-term goal of eventual membership in the EU and -- as a step toward that goal -- hopes to become a full member of the Council of Europe this summer.

Noting that a lot hinges on Armenia's parliamentary elections on May 30, he said Yerevan authorities are "committed to free and fair, transparent elections, because this is critical to our democracy."