HELSINKI (RFE/RL)–The United States, Russia and France urged Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday to build on reported progress in recent talks between their presidents and reach a framework agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh in the “coming months.”
High-ranking diplomats from the three nations jointly spearheading the drawn-out peace process reaffirmed the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement that were formally submitted to the conflicting parties in Madrid last year.
“We call on the parties to work with the Co-Chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group] to finalize the Basic Principles in coming months, and then begin drafting a comprehensive peace settlement as outlined by those agreed principles,” Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Bernard Kouchner of France and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said in a joint declaration.
The declaration was issued after the three men met with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on the sidelines of an OSCE ministerial meeting in Helsinki. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told RFE/RL that the meeting lasted for about 15 minutes but gave no further details.
Nalbandian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, held much lengthier talks in the Finnish capital on Wednesday in the presence of other American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said they agreed to maintain the “positive atmosphere” created by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their November 2 talks outside Moscow. In a joint statement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev pledged to “intensify” the peace process.
Lavrov, Kouchner and Fried likewise emphasized the “positive momentum” which they said was established by the two presidents. “The Moscow Declaration signed that same day opened a new and promising phase in our shared endeavor to expand peace in the South Caucasus,” they said.
The Helsinki statement called on the conflicting parties to bolster the ceasefire regime along the Line of Contact east of Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier by pulling back snipers from their frontline positions. “We reiterate our firm view that there is no military solution to the conflict and call on the parties to recommit to a peaceful resolution,” it said.
The declaration said nothing about the next meeting of Aliyev and Sarkisian which the mediators say could prove decisive for the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord. Matthew Bryza, Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator, said last month the holding of yet another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit hinges on the outcome of the Helsinki talks.
Speaking to an RFE/RL correspondent in Helsinki on Thursday, Bryza expressed hope that Aliyev and Sarkisian will meet again “in a couple of weeks” and insisted that the peace process is “moving forward.” “We need to see the basic principles finalized, and we believe they can be soon,” he said. “And we also want to see serious confidence-building measures and finally make sure everybody realizes there is only a peaceful settlement to this conflict. You cannot solve this conflict through a military way."
In Yerevan, meanwhile, a former military leader of Karabakh, Samvel Babayan, predicted that the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute will remain unresolved in the next five years. He also criticized the Armenian government’s Karabakh policy.
“Even though our foe hasn’t accepted any compromise variants, we are saying that are ready to compromise,” Babayan told journalists. “Nobody knows what are giving up and why.”
The once influential general also accused Yerevan of helping to effectively drive the Karabakh Armenia’s out of the negotiating process. “Yerevan should not have become a negotiating party,” he said. “Stepanakert should have.”
Arkady Ter-Tadevosian, another retired army general who played a major part in the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, was also skeptical about chances of Karabakh peace. He claimed that oil-rich Azerbaijan is making “intensive preparations for hostilities.”