Talks on July 16-17 on the sidelines of the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Almaty failed to galvanize the apparently deadlocked Karabakh peace process.
While the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, Eduard Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov, blamed each other for the ongoing stalemate, the French and Russian foreign ministers and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg -- representing the three countries that co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been seeking to mediate a solution to the conflict since 1992 -- released a statement
stressing that the "primary responsibility" for ending the conflict lies with the leaders of the two countries. Accordingly, they urged
"a greater spirit of compromise" and "additional actions by the sides…to reinforce the cease-fire of 1994."
Both Nalbandian and Mammadyarov said the initial intention was to release a joint statement by all five officials. Each blamed the other for thwarting that planned statement. Nalbandian termed Mammadyarov's approach "destructive." Mammadyarov for his part told journalists
he has the impression that "Armenia has no desire to reach an agreement."
Nalbandian and Mammadyarov met one-on-one on July 16 and then a second time the following day in the presence of their French and Russian counterparts, Bernard Kouchner and Sergei Lavrov, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg.
The co-chair countries issued a joint statement after those talks that condemned the "serious armed incident"
last month in which one Azerbaijani and four Armenian servicemen were killed in an exchange of fire on the Line of Contact separating the two countries' forces. They likewise deplored "inflammatory public statements," a possible allusion to repeated warnings by senior officials that Azerbaijan has the military capacity to restore its control over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh republic by force.
The joint statement went on to warn that "the use of force created the current situation, and its use again would only lead to suffering, devastation, and a legacy of conflict and hostility that would last for generations."
It also stressed that any "fair and lasting" settlement of the conflict must be based on the principles enumerated in the statement by the French, Russian, and U.S. presidents adopted one year ago on the sidelines of the G8 summit in L'Aquila and reaffirmed last month at the G8 meeting in Canada.
They are the return to Azerbaijani control of the territories bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh currently occupied by Armenian forces; interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh that provides guarantees of security and self-governance; a land corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through "a legally binding expression of will"; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.
The statement stressed that "these proposed elements have been conceived as an integrated whole, and any attempt to select some elements over others would make it impossible to achieve a balanced position."
But the July 2009 statement failed to specify in what sequence those elements are to be implemented. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have availed themselves of the resulting ambiguity to promote as the sole acceptable variant the time frame they consider most advantageous.
In written remarks released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on July 19, Nalbandian said that the insistence that the principle elements of the settlement constitute "an integrated whole," and the appeal to strengthen the cease-fire regime, were addressed primarily at Azerbaijan. He argued that Azerbaijani leaders emphasize the principle of territorial integrity and downplay the right of the Karabakh Armenians to self-determination.
The French/Russian/U.S. statement did not stress the necessity of maintaining the confidentiality of the peace talks, which both Armenia and Azerbaijan have done until quite recently. In recent weeks, however, both Mammadyarov and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have claimed publicly
that Armenia has agreed in principle to withdraw its forces from all seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan, including Kelbacar and the strategic Lachin corridor that links Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Mammadyarov further claimed
that the Almaty talks would focus on the timeframe for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Kelbacar and Lachin over a period of five years. Nalbandian and Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian, however, both emphatically denied this