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Analysis: Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Resume Karabakh Talks

On 12 May, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, will meet for the second time within one month to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Two weeks earlier, the presidents of the two countries, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, held similar talks on the sidelines of the European Economic Summit in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004).

Oskanian on 30 April quoted Kocharian as saying he believes his talks with Aliyev in Warsaw "can really contribute to finding common ground for the basis of negotiations at future meetings," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Oskanian added that "there will be clear instructions from the presidents to the foreign ministers regarding putting the negotiations on a certain basis. So we see positive movement and believe there will be a continuation."

That formulation suggests that the Warsaw talks clarified the Azerbaijani negotiating position. In an interview published in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" following his 16 April talks with Mammadyarov in Prague, Oskanian said that meeting failed to shed any light on how seriously a statement made by Mammedyarov's predecessor, Vilayat Guliev, in February should be taken. Guliev had advocated beginning talks again from zero (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). Oskanian told the German daily he believes Guliev's statement was intended purely for internal Azerbaijani consumption.

Neither Oskanian nor Kocharian has given any indication of what issues were discussed during their respective talks with their Azerbaijani counterparts. But Mammadyarov told AFP on 30 April that the two sides are discussing the withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven districts of Azerbaijan bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in exchange for the restoration of rail communication between the two countries. "The subject of our negotiations right now is how ready the sides are to make compromises," AFP quoted Mammadyarov as saying.

Ilham Aliyev said on 7 May that the proposal that Armenian forces withdraw from the seven districts in return for the resumption of rail communication originated in Baku, and was not suggested by the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been attempting to mediate a solution of the conflict for the past 12 years. The EU initially included in a resolution on the South Caucasus adopted earlier this year a demand for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Agdam, Djabrail, Fizuli, Gubadly, and Zangelan districts of Azerbaijan in return for the restoration of rail communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but Oskanian at the time rejected that approach, and the demand was dropped before the final version of the resolution was passed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January, 3 and 27 February, and 1 March 2004). It is not clear why, having rejected earlier this year the initial EU proposal to withdraw from five districts, the Armenian side should now be prepared to discuss withdrawing from seven districts, as the Azerbaijani officials claim.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Kazimirov, who served in mid-1990s as the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, has again slammed Armenia's stated preference for a "package" solution to the conflict that would simultaneously resolve all contentious issues. In an interview published on 30 April in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Kazimirov said a package solution to such a complex conflict is "impossible," and that continued insistence on it "will only freeze the situation and lead the mediation into a blind alley." Instead, Kazimirov argued, it would be more advisable to begin the search for a solution with comparatively minor points.

In a second article, published in "Vremya novostei" on 7 May, Kazimirov argued that it is important to reestablish a mechanism for constant contacts between the two sides. He pointed out that the presidents of the two countries "cannot meet that often, and one should not place the entire responsibility for concessions on them personally." Similarly, Kazimirov continued, the foreign ministers also have numerous other responsibilities. Therefore, he concluded, it would be better for each side to choose a delegation that would concentrate exclusively on the Karabakh conflict. In addition, he argued that the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be included in talks on "general issues" related to a solution of the conflict. Azerbaijan, however, has consistently rejected any Karabakh representation at peace talks.

Kazimirov suggested that the renewed peace talks should focus simultaneously on four issues on the principle of "territory for security." Those four issues are: strengthening the existing cease-fire and precluding a resumption of hostilities; removing the root of the conflict by addressing the future status of Karabakh; removing the consequences of the conflict by withdrawing Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani districts, demining operations, and the return of displaced persons to their homes; and what he terms "elementary measures to reduce tension and normalize relations." Kazimirov acknowledged, however, that progress on the second and third issues would be slow.