MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged on Sunday to step up the prolonged search for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but did not announce any concrete agreemen’s after weekend talks hosted by their Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev met in a one-to-one format and were later joined by Medvedev at the Meiendorf Castle outside Moscow on Sunday amid fresh international hopes for a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by Russia, the United States and France.
"The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to continue work, including during further contacts on the highest level, on agreeing a political resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and ordered their foreign ministers to intensify further steps in the negotiating process in coordination with the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group," the three leaders said in a joint declaration read out by Medvedev.
The declaration stressed the importance of continued efforts by the group’s American, French and Russian co-chairs to work out the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement acceptable to the conflicting parties. But it only vaguely alluded to a framework peace accord that was formally put forward by the co-chairs in November 2007 in Madrid.
It also said "the achievement of a peaceful settlement must be accompanied by legally binding international guarantees of all aspects and stages."
Armenia and Azerbaijani are understood to have agreed to most of the key points of the proposed settlement. The mediators hoped before the Moscow talks that the two sides will overcome their remaining differences before the end of this year.
In October, Sarkisian said he was ready for talks on the principles that would give Nagorno-Karabakh the right to self-determination. For Yerevan, the primary shortcoming of the so-called Madrid Principles is that they require Armenia to relinquish its most important bargaining chip and withdraw from the seven liberated districts bordering Karabakh–including the Lachin corridor linking Armenia to Karabakh–before any decision has been made on the future status of the unrecognized republic.That issue is to be decided by means of a referendum that may not take place until years after the Armenian withdrawal.
The Declaration adopted in Moscow is a symbolic move, according to David Babayan, the political advisor to Karabakh’s President, Bako Sahakyan’s.
Babayan cited the declaration’s language endorsing principles of international law as indication that Stepanakert’s rights to self determination would be respected and its role as a party to the conflict recognized.
But the Karabakh conflict will last “dozens of years,” if Azerbaijan continues to maintain its current position in the negotiations, he warned, citing statemen’s by top Azeri officials threatening to raze Armenia to the ground, “seize Meghri and join Nakhijevan to Turkey” with the help of Russia.
Explaining that the declaration is evidence of Moscow’s intention to have a leading role in the negotiation process, Babayan stressed that Armenia and Karabakh must secure their own interests by strengthening their respective states.
Analysts close to the conflict see Moscow’s supporting of the peace process as an attempt to boost its influence in the region, especially with Azerbaijan, a key energy exporter that ships oil and gas through Western-backed pipelines through Georgia and Turkey, bypassing Russia.
The Moscow declaration also comes against the backdrop of Turkey’s ongoing push to sideline the OSCE Minsk Group in its efforts to resolve the conflict with its own bid to mediate a peace between Armenia and its staunch ally Azerbaijan.
Speaking to RFE/RL just before those talks, Yuri Merzlyakov, the Minsk Group’s Russian co-chair, described the trilateral declaration as a “historic” document that will speed up the peace process. He noted that Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders have jointly put pen to paper for the first time since the signing in May 1994 of a Russian-mediated truce that stopped the war in Karabakh.
A resolution of the Karabakh dispute would be a boost to the whole South Caucasus region and "would contribute to the improvement of the situation in the South Caucasus to restore stability and safety to the region… and create favorable conditions for economic development, the declaration said.
But the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry appeared to downplay the document’s significance. “One should not look for anything new in the signing of the document,” a ministry spokesman, Khazar Ibrahim, told journalists in Baku on Monday, according to the Trend news agency. “Negotiations are still going on and their significance is reflected by the declaration. The groundwork needs to be laid for the transition to the next phase of the negotiations.”
That next phase, according to Vahan Hovannesian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, is Azerbaijan’s signing of a legal document pledging that it will not resort to military force in seeking a resolution to the conflict.
"Negotiations to resolve the conflict can bear fruit and promote peace only when Azerbaijan signs a legal document with the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh pledging that it will not use force or the threat of force, said Hovannesian, the head of the party’s parliamentary faction.
Armenia’s main opposition alliance, meanwhile, declined to comment on the Moscow talks on Monday. Levon Zurabian, a senior member of the Armenian National Congress, told RFE/RL that the top leader of the alliance, Levon Ter-Petrosian, will issue a special statement on Tuesday.
The mediating troika, including U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, held separate talks with Aliyev and Sarkisian at Meiendorf later on Sunday. No details of those talks were made public and the mediators issued no joint statemen’s afterwards. The three co-chairs also met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan Saturday in Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Below is the translated text of the declaration:
1. Declare that they will facilitate the improvement of the situation in the South Caucasus and establishment of stability and security in the region through a political settlement of the conflict based on the principles and norms of international law and the decisions and documen’s adopted in this framework to create favorable conditions for economic development and comprehensive cooperation in the region.
2. Confirm the importance of the mediating efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, taking into consideration their meeting with the parties on November 29, 2007 and the future discussions held for the purpose of working out the main principles of political settlement.
3. Agree that the peaceful resolution should be accompanied by judicially biding international guarantees in all aspects and stages of settlement.
4. Note that the presidents agree to continue the efforts for the political settlement of the conflict and instruct their Ministers of Foreign affairs to take more active steps in that direction through cooperation with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs.
5. Emphasize the importance of creating conditions that will contribute to the reinforcement of trust within the framework of the efforts targeted at the settlement of the conflict.
Editor’s Note: Asbarez will provide continued coverage on the meeting between the three presidents as developmen’s unfold.