YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will press Armenia and Azerbaijan to cut a framework peace deal on Nagorno-Karabakh during her upcoming trips to the two South Caucasus states, a senior U.S. official said late on Tuesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said she will “underscore” a peace message contained in a joint statement issued by the presidents of the United States, France and Russia over the weekend.
Clinton is due to arrive in Baku and proceed to Yerevan on Sunday on a five-nation tour of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. She will become the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Armenia in over 18 years.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Clinton’s talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will focus on “a broad range of issues pertaining to the development and deepening of the friendly Armenian-American partnership.” “Regional and international issues of mutual interest will also be discussed,” read a ministry statement.
According to Gordon, the unresolved Karabakh conflict will be high on the agenda of Clinton’s talks in the Armenian and Azerbaijani capitals. “I think we’ve seen in some of the violence that has appeared in the region lately that we can’t take stability for granted, and Armenia and Azerbaijan would both benefit from moving forward in the [OSCE] Minsk Group process,” he told journalists in Washington. “And the Secretary will have a chance in both countries to underscore what the [U.S., Russian and French] presidents said in Toronto the other day.”
Gordon said Washington is “very concerned” about the latest upsurge in ceasefire violations around Karabakh and thinks they highlight the need for a speedy resolution of the conflict. “And that is the purpose of the Secretary’s — one of the purposes of the Secretary’s trip to talk to both parties about how to move that process forward,” he said.
In their joint statement, Presidents Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy urged their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts “complete the work on the Basic Principles” of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the three mediating powers. They said the peace framework must also be based on the OSCE’s “Helsinki Principles,” which include territorial integrity of states, peoples’ right to self-determination and non-use of force.
In Gordon’s words, Clinton will seek reassurances that Baku and Yerevan support these principles. “We’ll look to them to reiterate their commitment to all of the Helsinki Principles as part of this process,” he said.
The U.S. official added that Clinton will also discuss with Sarkisian Armenia’s U.S.-backed normalization process with Turkey that all but collapsed earlier this year. “So this will be a chance for the Secretary to speak to President Sarkisian and the Armenians about how they see that situation,” he said.
In that context, Gordon reaffirmed Washington’s support for an unconditional ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols that were signed in Zurich last October. Sarkisian froze the process of their ratification by the Armenian parliament in April because of Ankara’s refusal to drop a series of preconditions that demanded Yerevan settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and drop international genocide recognition efforts.
The State Department praised the Armenian leader afterwards for not scrapping the protocols altogether. It said the deal may still be put into effect “over the long term.”