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Does Minsk Group Visit Reflect Progress In Resolving Karabakh Conflict?

Minsk Group Co-Chairmen (left-right) Yury Merzlyakov, Matthew Bryza, and Bernard Fassier in Vienna in November
Minsk Group Co-Chairmen (left-right) Yury Merzlyakov, Matthew Bryza, and Bernard Fassier in Vienna in November
Meeting in late January in Zurich on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev, reportedly made unspecified progress on "several key elements" of the Basic Principles for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict unveiled in the summer of 2006 by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The co-chairs have just completed a tour of the region -- their second so far this year -- in the hope of sustaining the momentum of the peace process and further narrowing the remaining differences between the two camps.

The three co-chairmen began their tour last week in Baku, where they met on February 27 with President Aliyev and with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. In addition, U.S. co-Chairman Matthew Bryza met separately with Azerbaijan's veteran defense minister, Colonel General Safar Abiyev. Late on February 28, the co-chairs traveled from Yerevan to Stepanakert, where they met for three hours with Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakian.

Russian co-Chairman Yury Merzlyakov told Novosti-Armenia that the discussion was "substantive," and that Sahakian posed a number of specific questions about "concrete projects," presumably in the realm of postconflict reconstruction. The logical inference from that comment is that the time frame for a formal settlement has become clearer.

From Stepanakert, the co-chairs returned to Yerevan, where on March 2 they briefed Armenian President Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian on the outcome of their talks over the past few days. French co-Chairman Ambassador Bernard Fassier on March 3 termed the talks with the two Armenian leaders "constructive" and "important."

He also said that "at some point" it will become necessary for representatives of the Karabakh Armenian and former Azerbaijani communities to join the ongoing peace talks, but that it is up to the two presidents to decide when this should happen.

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on March 3 prior to returning to Baku for more talks with the Azerbaijani leadership, Fassier expressed cautious optimism that the two presidents may meet again within the next few months. A possible venue for that meeting is the EU summit in Prague on May 7 to launch the new Eastern Partnership program that encompasses both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It was in Prague that the talks that yielded the Basic Principles first got under way in April 2004.

U.S. co-Chairman Bryza told RFE/RL before the talks in Switzerland in late January that the co-chairs were hoping that the Basic Principles would be signed in early summer, possibly in June.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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