MUNICH (Combined Sources)–Armenia and Azerbaijan are narrowing their differences over a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sought by international mediators, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said over the weekend, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Monday.
“We are trying to help Armenians and Azerbaijanis to reach a common approach,” the DPA news agency quoted him as saying at the Munich Security Conference. “It’s obviously a very difficult issue, but things are moving.”
“The understanding is growing and the number of issues that must be tackled by the top leaders is reducing and we are trying to help,” Lavrov said.
Russia, which co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group with the United States and France, has stepped up its involvement in the Karabakh negotiating process of late, with President Dmitry Medvedev hosting this year’s first meeting of his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts near the Russian city of Sochi late last month.
Lavrov said after those talks that President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev have essentially agreed on a preamble to the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement put forward by the Minsk Group co-chairs. He said they also agreed to “prepare their own concrete ideas and formulations” on the remaining sticking points.
Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Yuri Merzlyakov, said in Sochi that Baku and Yerevan will submit relevant proposals in the next two weeks. Merzlyakov told the Azerbaijani APA news agency on Monday that the mediators have yet to receive them.
The mediators announced earlier in January that they have developed an “updated version” of the basic principles in an effort to facilitate their acceptance by the parties. The refused to disclose the changes made in the document.
In an interview with the Euronews TV channel aired last week, Aliyev again asserted that the mediators’ peace proposals are “based on restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijan will never agree to independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, or to any kind of mechanisms or procedures which will eventually lead to secession,” he said.
Armenia’s leaders insist that the proposed agreement does include such a mechanism. They say one of the basic principles upholds the Karabakh Armenians’ right to formalize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s independence in a future referendum. Officials in Yerevan have also sought to cool talk of the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord in the coming months.
Aliyev sounded more optimistic on that score. “I hope that what has been agreed basically before and what we are planning to agree during 2010 will put an end to conflict and peace will come to the Caucasus,” he said.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Elkhan Polukhov, reiterated Aliyev’s remarks in a press briefing on Monday. “Azerbaijan sees prospect in negotiations,” he said, adding, however, that any acceptable resolution for Baku depends on “what extent the Minsk Group co-chairs are active.”
Azerbaijan and Turkey have, in recent weeks, stepped up their criticism of the Minsk Group in an apparent play to pressure the troika into pushing for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict favoring Baku’s position.
Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, last week accused Russia and the West of supporting Armenia in the conflict and thereby delaying its peaceful resolution.
The Azerbaijani official’s latest remarks mirrored Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong criticism of the international mediators voiced days earlier. Erdogan claimed that the Karabakh conflict would have already been resolved had the U.S., Russia and France “worked hard” enough. He faulted them for not putting sufficient pressure on Armenia to end “the occupation of Azerbaijani territory.”