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Minsk Group Co-Chairs Hopeful Of Karabakh 'Breakthrough'

  • Liz Fuller

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) meets with members of the Minsk Group on July 8

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) meets with members of the Minsk Group on July 8

The visit by the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to Yerevan and Baku may have brought a formal settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict one step closer.

Meeting with the Minsk Group co-chairs on July 8 and 10, respectively, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to meet in Moscow on July 17. That meeting will be the sixth between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in just over a year.

Speaking in Baku on July 10, Russian co-Chairman Yury Merzlyakov said the co-chairs are hopeful that next week's meeting between the two presidents could lead to a breakthrough. But he said it is unlikely that any document will be signed at that meeting.


French co-Chairman Bernard Fassier said in Yerevan on July 8 that the conflict parties have agreed on almost all the 15 or so points of the Basic Principles for resolving the conflict.

He said they still have to reach agreement on the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh and on security guarantees for its predominantly Armenian population.

Azerbaijan's President Aliyev told a Russian television channel last weekend that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh could remain undecided for 10 or even 100 years.

Armenia and Azerbaijan still disagree over whether Nagorno-Karabakh should join the peace talks. Aliyev said this is unnecessary and would be "disruptive."

But Russian Minsk group co-chairman Merzlyakov told journalists in Yerevan on July 8 that the co-chairs would like Nagorno-Karabakh representatives to join the talks after the signing of the Basic Principles.

Snipers

Speaking today at a conference in Stepanakert, de facto Nagorno-Karabakh leader Bako Sahakian said no peace agreement is possible without Karabakh's participation.

"Karabakh, which is the main party to the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict, has been left out of the negotiations, and we must achieve the return to this important principle. It is impossible to realize any solution without the consent of the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic," Sahakian said.

The co-chairs hailed on July 8 the stated readiness of both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to withdraw the Armenian snipers deployed along the Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Snipers kill dozens of servicemen on both sides every year. Azerbaijan, however, has not yet agreed to withdraw its snipers.

A further potential sticking point is the timeframe for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven districts of Azerbaijan they currently control. The Basic Principles require a withdrawal from five of those districts and the deployment of international peacekeepers in the other two, which lie between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

Karabakh Defense Minister Lieutenant General Movses Hakopian was quoted on July 9 as saying no one has asked Karabakh to withdraw from those districts, and that the unrecognized republic's leadership does not intend to give them up.

The French, Russian, and U.S. presidents issued a statement on July 10 at the G8 summit in Aquila calling on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the remaining differences and complete the conflict resolution process.

RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services contributed to this report

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