YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer affirmed his country’s neutrality on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on Monday just days after his foreign minister reportedly backed Azerbaijan’s stance in the ongoing peace talks with Armenia.
Speaking during an official visit to Yerevan, Fischer stressed that the Czech Republic is treating both conflicting parties “equally.” “I am convinced and believe that the conflict must be resolved within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, on the basis of peace talks,” he told journalists after talks with his Armenian counterpart, Tigran Sarkisian. “Armenia is on the right track on the Karabakh issue.”
“Our Czech partners’ balanced approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict … is extremely important for us,” Sarkisian said, for his part.
Fischer’s remarks contrasted with what Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said during a visit to Baku late last week. “We support official Baku’s position on the issue of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying.
“We always adhere to the principles of international law … and support the Madrid principles [of the conflict’s resolution] that contain the principle of territorial integrity of states,” Kohout reportedly said.
The framework peace accord proposed by the Minsk Group’s U.S., Russian and French co-chairs is also based on the principle of peoples’ self-determination championed by the Armenian side.
Fischer did not comment on the Czech foreign minister’s remarks after his talks with the Armenian premier. He refused to answer any questions from reporters, saying that he is running late for a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian.
According to Sarkisian’s office, the Karabakh dispute was on the meeting’s agenda. “The Czech prime minister noted that his country has a balanced approach to this issue and thinks that the conflict should be resolved with the mutual consent of the conflicting parties and within the Minsk Group framework,” the office said in a statement.
Economic issues were nonetheless the main focus of Fischer’s two-day visit. In particular, the two sides ways of boosting Armenian-Czech trade, the total volume of which stood at a modest $16.5 million last year.
“The Czech Republic is open to cooperation with Armenia, and our government is encouraging businessmen on this issue,” Fischer said. He and Prime Minister Sarkisian opened a Czech-Armenian business forum later in the day.