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Caucasus Report: January 12, 2007

OSCE: Outgoing Chief Says Moscow An Obstacle

Karel De Gucht made resolution of the frozen conflicts a priority of his chairmanship

January 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As Spain begins its work as the 2007 chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), RFE/RL correspondent Dan Alexe speaks to the outgoing chairman in office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, about his tenure in 2006 and likely steps in the year ahead.

RFE/RL: How would you characterize Belgium's chairmanship of the OSCE this past year?

Karel De Gucht: Considering that the OSCE is, in a way, an organization in crisis due to great divergences between participating states, I think Belgium was successful in holding this organization together. I think this organization is actually in better shape than one year ago.

"We made several attempts at convincing the Russian authorities to allow the OSCE to operate in Chechnya. But Russia's refusal was total."

RFE/RL: In your opinion, will the OSCE be able to maintain this performance in 2007?

De Gucht: We are now succeeded by Spain, by my friend Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is an excellent diplomat. People sometimes say that I am not a diplomat, that he is a career diplomat, while I'm a politician. I'm absolutely convinced that he will be an excellent chairman in office.

RFE/RL: What do you think will happen if Kazakhstan takes over the presidency in 2009?

De Gucht: One must look at the decision we made in Brussels [at the December ministerial meeting], which I consider a wise decision. We said Kazakhstan was eligible. Every presidency, however, must meet the same criteria with regard to guaranteeing democracy, the principles of the OSCE's charter, etc.

We also acknowledge the fact that Kazakhstan will in coming months submit a program for democratic reform. On the basis of the evaluation of this program and its implementation, we will make a decision on the 2009 presidency at the next ministerial [meeting] in Madrid.

RFE/RL: Let's go back to your presidency. You initially announced that searching for solutions to the frozen conflicts in the CIS was a priority for the OSCE. But these conflicts, including Transdniester and South Ossetia, remain far from being resolved. Do you see this as a failure of the OSCE?

De Gucht: This is certainly not a failure of the OSCE. The OSCE's sole function is to be an honest broker, to try to encourage the interested parties to find agreements. In South Ossetia, it is true that there has been a referendum, but we haven't recognized it, and the international community has not recognized this referendum either. On the other hand, there has been a conference of donors for the rehabilitation of South Ossetia. We visited South Ossetia, and I think that with the means we were able to gather, we can rehabilitate South Ossetia. And that changes the facts on the ground.

It is true that with regard to Transdniester and South Ossetia, we are currently unable to resolve these frozen conflicts for one simple reason: Russia doesn't want to solve these problems now. And I don't have any levers that could force Russia to do it. I am convinced that the frozen conflict that is potentially the most dangerous is Nagorno-Karabakh. If we fail to find a solution, sooner or later it will pose very serious problems.

RFE/RL: What about Chechnya? The OSCE appears to be ignoring this conflict. This is all the more surprising since the OSCE monitored the 1997 elections that brought Aslan Maskhadov to power, and declared them free and fair. Since these elections, the OSCE has remained tight-lipped on Chechnya.

De Gucht: We made several attempts at convincing the Russian authorities to allow the OSCE to operate in Chechnya, but we didn't get permission from Russia. We can't force it. I am in favor of a mission in Chechnya; I was even ready to make serious concessions in order to be able to resume our activities in this region. But Russia's refusal was total.

Armenia: Opposition Leaders Mull New Alliances

By Astghik Bedevian and Liz Fuller
January 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia's leading opposition forces are holding negotiations on the possibility of forming new alliances ahead of the parliamentary elections due in May, opposition leaders told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on January 8.

National Unity Party (AMK) leader Artashes Geghamian indicated that he is considering ways of teaming up with another opposition heavyweight, Stepan Demirchian and his People's Party of Armenia (HZhK). Former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian is also involved in ongoing talks with fellow opposition parties.

Up For Discussion

Geghamian told RFE/RL he has held "some discussions" with the HZhk. "We have primarily talked about doing everything to ensure that the upcoming elections are democratic and preventing falsifications," he said, but declined to divulge further details. HZhK leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

Geghamian and Demirchian have had an uneasy personal rapport, falling out during the presidential elections of February-March 2003 when they were President Robert Kocharian's main opposition challengers.
"I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders." -- Hanrapetutiun leader Sargsian

The two men joined forces a year later to lead an ill-fated opposition attempt to force Kocharian into resignation with a campaign of street protests. The failure of the campaign opened a new rift between them that appeared to have deepened in May 2006 when Demirchian accused Geghamian of lying about his late father, HZhK founder Karen Demirchian. Geghamian was quick to try to mend fences with Demirchian at the time.

Hanrapetutiun leader Sargsian reportedly is also participating in the current talks, which he described as encouraging. "Formation of alliances is always much easier ahead of elections," he told RFE/RL. "I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders."

He added that the talks have so far focused on the nomination of single opposition candidates in all of Yerevan's 15 electoral districts. But he would not comment on the chances of a new broad-based opposition alliance emerging in place of the largely moribund Artarutiun (Justice) bloc led by Demirchian.

It is also unclear whether Geghamian and Demirchian are prepared to conclude a formal election alliance with the more radical Sargsian. Sargsian for his part "unequivocally" does not rule out cooperation with the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), according to Noyan Tapan on January 9.

Electoral Alternative

Meanwhile, there is also growing talk of another major electoral alliance that could be led by former parliament speaker and Orinats Yerkir party head Artur Baghdasarian and Samvel Babayan, the former commander of the armed forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Former parliament speakder Artur Baghdasarian (Photolur file photo)

Babayan launched his Dashink party in late 2005, and told RFE/RL's Armenian Service in June 2006 that he was confident it will win representation in the new parliament to be elected this year. He also said he would not form an electoral alliance with any other party.

Among their potential allies is the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM), a small opposition party currently affiliated with Artarutiun. Hayk Babukhanian, who replaced Hrant Khachatrian as SIM's leader late last summer, in early January did not rule out the possibility of the SIM joining forces with Orinats Yerkir and Dashink.

Opposition Welcome

Babukhanian dismissed speculation that Baghdasarian's and Babayan's ambitious parties maintain secret ties with President Robert Kocharian. "If they don't support the current authorities, then they are in opposition," he said.

Yet another possible election alliance would bring together the small opposition Union of National Democrats headed by Arshak Sadoyan and the Democratic Path party headed by independent parliamentarian Manuk Gasparian, Noyan Tapan reported on January 9, quoting the independent daily "Aravot."

Gasparian said he is holding talks with "two or three" individual political figures who have expressed an interest in running on the bloc's joint list, but declined to name them.