In order not to risk jeopardizing any rapprochement that has been achieved, the participants in what has come to be known as the "Prague process" of ministerial level talks under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict have until now abided by a gentlemen's agreement not to divulge to the press the specific topics under discussion.
In line with that agreement, neither Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian nor his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov have divulged any details of their most recent talks in Prague on 10-11 January.
But four days after those talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a press release (http://www.In.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/sps/817A437F6E4B727BC3256F89004AE499) listing specific issues under discussion, adding that on some of those issues the two sides' positions have become closer.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service after meeting with Mammadyarov on 11 January, Oskanian characterized the mood of the talks as "positive." He said that "full agreement" has not yet been reached on the principles of a settlement, but that "there is a general framework of issues, but as this meeting showed, they need to be consolidated." He added that "it is still too early to disclose any details." Briefing journalists in Yerevan the following day, Oskanian predicted that settlement talks this year will be "quite intensive," thus marking a qualitative shift to a new, more serious phase of discussions. Noyan Tapan quoted him as saying that "all elements" related to a peaceful solution of the conflict are on the table, without listing those elements.
Oskanian further noted that Azerbaijani media frequently misrepresent the nature and focus of the talks, and that "everyone" -- presumably meaning both Mammadyarov and the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group -- agree that "officials should be more circumspect when making statements."
On 13 January, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov similarly briefed journalists in Baku on the Prague talks. Azimov said that while Baku insists that any solution to the conflict must preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, the restoration of territorial integrity alone will not solve all problems: in that context he mentioned specifically the future peaceful coexistence of the Armenian population of Karabakh and those Azerbaijanis who fled the region over a decade ago when the conflict first turned violent and hope to return there.
Azimov also listed issues that could form part of a hypothetical solution to the conflict. He said that if Armenian troops are withdrawn from Azerbaijani territory, Azerbaijan would be ready to restore economic and other relations with Armenia. He was quoted by zerkalo.az as saying that "a little later, the question of the return to the region of the Azerbaijani population and the coexistence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Nagorno-Karabakh must be addressed. Once interregional ties and ties between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia [on the one hand] and the government of Azerbaijan are established, it will be possible to achieve a normalization of the situation and set about seeking a solution to other political questions." Whether Oskanian and Mammadyarov have discussed that specific sequence of events is not clear, however.
Azimov dismissed as "speculation" reports that the liberation of three of the seven districts of Azerbaijan currently under Armenian control is under discussion: he said that "in the course of the Prague process the question of liberating all seven districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh at the first stage is being discussed." According to echo-az.com, Azimov likewise denied that the possibility of holding a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh on the region's future status was addressed in Prague, and he expressed regret that such "unreliable information" finds its way into the press. In an article published in "Le Figaro" last month, former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and Pierre Lellouche, who is NATO Parliamentary Assembly president, argued that the Karabakh conflict differs fundamentally from those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, and that "the Europeans, Americans, and Russians should jointly defend a compromise [settlement] that would give Armenia temporary control of Karabakh in exchange for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory, [with] the final status of Karabakh to be decided by its inhabitants in a referendum in five or 10 years' time."
The Russian Foreign Ministry press release listed among the "contentious issues" under discussion: the withdrawal of [Armenian] troops, demilitarization of the previously occupied territories, international security guarantees for the Armenian population of Karabakh, and the unrecognized republic's future status vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. The press release reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to contribute, together with the other two Minsk Group co-chairs, to "deepening the mutual understanding between Armenia and Azerbaijan" with a view to bringing about a peaceful solution to the conflict.