During the G-8 summit in Deauville in late May, the presidents of France, Russia, and the U.S., the three countries that jointly co-chair the Minsk Group of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), issued a statement
calling on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "finalize" at their planned meeting in the Tatar city of Kazan on June 25 the so-called "Basic Principles" for resolving the Karabakh conflict.
These "Basic Principles" are intended to serve as the blueprint for a comprehensive peace agreement to be drafted jointly by the co-chairs and representatives of the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments and the de facto government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Henri Reynaud, the French ambassador to Yerevan, told a press conference on May 30 that he expects "a rapid agreement on the principles of the settlement" and that "the agreement will be rapidly put into practice, adding that he expects tension on the frontier to decrease and that "trust will replace distrust and cooperation will replace hostility"
However, subsequent statements by Azerbaijani politicians, including President Ilham Aliyev, cast doubt on those optimistic predictions, although the signing in Kazan of some kind of interim protocol remains a possibility.
A Phased Approach To Resolving The Conflict
The so-called Basic Principles
were unveiled five years ago, and have since been revised and fine-tuned several times, most notably at the OSCE Ministerial in Madrid in November 2007 and following the G8 summit in L'Aquila in July 2009.
The initial draft pointed to a "phased-package" approach to resolving the conflict, meaning that the various elements of a settlement were to be agreed on simultaneously, although implemented successively, with one key aspect -- the final status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic -- to be decided by "a referendum or vote" at some unspecified future date.
"These principles include the phased redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, with special modalities for Kelbacar and Lachin districts [separating Karabakh from Armenia proper]," according to the then Minsk Group co-chairmen.
"Demilitarization of those territories would follow. A referendum or popular vote would be agreed, at an unspecified future date, to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh."
A Six-Point Plan
"An international peacekeeping force would be deployed," added the statement. "A joint commission would be agreed to implement the agreement. International financial assistance would be made available for de-mining, reconstruction, resettlement of internally displaced persons in the formerly occupied territories and the war-affected regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. The sides would renounce the use or threat of [the] use of force, and international and bilateral security guarantees and assurances would be put in place."
The most recent version, as summarized in a statement adopted at last year's G8 summit, consists of just six points:
The return to Azerbaijani control of seven districts of Azerbaijan contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh that are currently occupied by Armenian force.
Interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance
A corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh
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
International security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov revealed further details in March last year.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov
Specifically, he said that the first stage entails the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Agdam, Fizuli, Djebrail, Zangelan and Gubatli districts of Azerbaijan and from 13 villages in the Lachin district.
Communications are to be restored and a donors' conference convened to raise funds for post-conflict rehabilitation. "Peacekeeping observers" are to deployed to ensure the security of Azerbaijani displaced persons returning to their abandoned homes.
The second stage entails the withdrawal of the remaining Armenian forces from Lachin and Kelbacar. A decision will then be taken on the status of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh republic
within the Azerbaijan Republic.
'Ball Now In Azerbaijan's Court'
Armenia "has given a clear answer" to the latest version of the Basic Principles, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian was quoted by "Noyan Tapan" as saying on May 27. He implied that the ball is now in Azerbaijan's court.
Azerbaijani President Aliyev, however, told his countrymen on May 28 -- the anniversary of Azerbaijan's independence declaration in 1918 -- that it is Armenia that is blocking progress towards a solution to the conflict by dragging out the negotiating process.
Aliyev did not refer to either the Deauville statement or the Basic Principles by name. Instead, he focused on the assertion contained in the Deauville statement that the status quo is "unacceptable."
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
That, Aliyev reasoned, means that the Armenians must withdraw from all occupied Azerbaijani territory. He went on to stress, yet again
, that Azerbaijan will never agree to independence for Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov told journalists on June 7, after meeting in Baku with the visiting Minsk Group co-chairs, that Armenia, "agrees in principle" with the six principles, but insists a firm date be set for the "expression of will" on Nagorno-Karabakh's future status.
He added that this is a process which will take place in Nagorno-Karabakh itself.
International Peacekeeping Force
Mammadyarov said Armenia also continues to insist on the withdrawal of snipers from the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces.
The UN and the OSCE have for several years tried to persuade the two sides to withdraw their snipers
, but Azerbaijan has consistently refused to do so. Mammadyarov said on June 7 that it is not snipers, but troops that should be pulled back from the occupied territories.
Mammadyarov also told journalists on the same day that agreement has been reached on the composition of the international peacekeeping force to be deployed following the demilitarization of the conflict zone.
He said neither the co-chair countries nor "neighboring countries"
[Turkey and Iran] will contribute to that force.
The co-chairs are scheduled to travel to Stepanakert, and then to Yerevan. Nalbandian and Mammadyarov will then meet in Moscow on June 11 to make the final preparations for the Kazan meeting between President Aliyev, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Novruz Mammedov, who heads the Azerbaijani presidential administration's Department for Foreign Ties, was quoted on June 7 as saying
that the Kazan talks might result in the signing "of a protocol or some other agreement". He did not elaborate.
Mammadyarov has been quoted by Azerbaijani and Russian news agencies as telling VOA in a recent interview
that once the Basic Principles are endorsed, work on the final peace treaty must be completed "within a short time."