YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An irritated President Robert Kocharian accused his Azeri counterpart–Haydar Aliyev–on Tuesday of seeking to destabilize the political situation in Armenia with controversial remarks on Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. Kocharian said Aliyev hoped to fan opposition anger in Armenia when he claimed that Yerevan was ready to surrender the strategic Meghri district to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal on Karabakh.
"I guess they thought that they are thereby giving the [Armenian] opposition new material to conduct an active campaign against President Kocharian," he told reporters.
Kocharian further claimed that the Azeri leadership wants to "get rid" of him and deal with a new Armenian president who would be willing to make more concessions on Karabakh. He suggested that Baku was buoyed by the recent attempts in the Armenian parliament to impeach him.
After a year of denial–Aliyev on Friday admitted that he and Kocharian had finalized a framework agreement to end the Karabakh dispute at a meeting in Paris in March 2001. But he said the deal envisaged an exchange of territories whereby Azerbaijan would cede its Armenian-occupied Lachin district in exchange for Meghri.
Kocharian on Tuesday endorsed Armenian officials’ strong denial of the claims. "We talked only about a sovereign [Lachin] corridor between Armenia and Karabakh," he said. "As for Meghri–we were only talking about a road access [for Azerbaijan]."
Kocharian’s spokesman–Vahe Gabrielian–said over the weekend that the Paris agreement was "put on paper" at the subsequent peace held on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001 and that Aliyev backtracked on it shortly afterwards. Other senior Armenian sources told RFE/RL that Yerevan could ask US–Russian and French mediators to publicize the Key West document to prove that Aliyev "distorted facts."
However–Kocharian ruled out such a possibility for the time being. "We do have that document. But I think there is no need to make it public now," he said.
He also said his upcoming face-to-face meeting with Aliyev–prepared for the past several weeks–will go ahead despite the latter’s commen’s. "We are going to meet–to negotiate further. With less pleasure though," he said.
Armenia’s leading opposition parties had accused Kocharian in the past of planning to "sell out" Meghri. But few of them appear ready to revive the issue after Aliyev’s claims.
Meanwhile–a leading opposition party which has spearheaded the impeachment campaign against President Robert Kocharian said on Monday it is ready to cooperate with him for achieving a "pro-Armenian" solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Republic party indicated that it does not trust Azeri President Haydar Aliyev’s latest claims that Kocharian was ready last year to swap Armenians Meghri district for a land corridor with Karabakh – an idea highly unpopular in Armenia.
Republic party leaders had referred in the past to the so-called "Meghri variant" in their attacks on the president.
"We will never exploit the Karabakh issue to expedite a change of government or deal blows to the authorities," the party’s chairman–Albert Bazeyan–told RFE/RL. "Karabakh is an issue of nationwide significance. We are ready to support and cooperate with the authorities for the sake of its pro-Armenian resolution."
The unofficial leader of an alliance of 13 opposition parties–Republic party has been at the forefront of the latest campaign to impeach Kocharian which has heightened political tensions in the country.
Some presidential allies suggested on Monday that Aliyev’s sensational remarks were designed to stoke the tensions further. A spokesman for the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation–Giro Manoyan–said the veteran Azeri leader may be trying to weaken Armenia’s negotiating position.
Kocharian had already been accused by his opponents of planning to "sell out" Meghri during the seven-month power struggle in the Armenian leadership which followed the parliament killings of October 1999. Aram Sargsyan–the then prime minister and now a leader of Republic party–claimed credit at the time for burying the idea of a land swap. The fact that Sargsyan and his allies have not revived the issue this time around suggests that they treat Aliyev’s statemen’s with skepticism.
Aliyev on Friday admitted for the first time the existence of the so-called "Paris principles" of a Karabakh settlement. But he claimed that under an agreement finalized by the two presidents in Paris last year the strategic Meghri area would be placed "under the sovereign control of Azerbaijan–while the Lachin corridor would be under Armenia’s control." He said Kocharian subsequently scrapped the deal.
A spokesman for Kocharian brushed aside the claims as a "nonsense," saying that it is Aliyev who had backtracked on the agreemen’s. An Armenian source close to the negotiating process told RFE/RL that the Paris deal in fact would make Lachin an internationally recognized part of Armenia–while Baku would be guaranteed only unfettered communication with its Nakhichevan exclave via Meghri.
ARF’s Manoyan–meanwhile–said the influential nationalist party which favors a tough line on Karabakh is not only against surrendering Meghri but also opposes the creation of any transport corridors on Armenian territory. Aliyev Calls For Stronger Army to Gain Upper Hand In Karabakh Conflict
Aliyev said Monday that his country must strengthen its military in order to gain leverage in its talks with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–reported the Associated Press.
"Our success in the negotiation process will depend on how strong our army is," Aliyev said at a dedication ceremony for a new army unit in near the country’s border with Armenia.
He told the servicemen at the ceremony to be ready "to liberate land" from separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh–an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
At the same time–Aliyev said he would do everything possible to bring about a peaceful end to the conflict. He said he would soon hold talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian.