YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–International mediators said they still hope to broker a framework peace accord on Nagorno-Karabakh before the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan as they began yet another round of regional shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday.
The chief U.S. Karabakh negotiator, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, insisted that the conflicting parties are “very close” to fully agreeing on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group.
President Robert Kocharian said earlier this month that despite substantial progress made in Armenian-Azerbaijan peace talks, the conflict is unlikely to be resolved before the Armenian and Azerbaijani elections.
“Unlikely means less than 50 percent,” Bryza told RFE/RL before he and the Minsk Group’s French and Russian co-chairs went into talks with Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. “It can mean 49 percent, 48 percent, which is maybe not much different than ‘likely.’”
“But we are realists and know that in the world of politics when an election is approaching it’s more difficult to make concessions,” he said.
Bryza’s French counterpart, Bernard Fassier, was likewise unsure about chances of a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute as he spoke to RFE/RL after the mediators’ meeting with Oskanian. “If we were the persons making the decision, my answer would definitely be yes,” he said. “But the fact is that other persons are in charge of making a compromise deal.”
“I don’t know when they will be ready to do that,” added Fassier.
The mediators hoped that Kocharian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev will meet again and take the final step toward mutual compromise before the end of this year. But the two leaders pointedly declined to hold such a meeting on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Tajikistan earlier this month and are unlikely to do so in the coming months.
“That doesn’t mean the process stops,” insisted Bryza. “We are so very close on just a few remaining technical issues. It would be a shame if we didn’t reach some sort of a gentlemen’s agreement on this framework that’s on the table.”
“Whether the agreement comes before the elections or shortly after, we are, as we say in American English, in the ballpark and it’s time to put the ball in the net,” he said.
Bryza also said the controversy surrounding the possible passage of a U.S. Congressional resolution recognizing as genocide the mass killings of Armenia’s in Ottoman Turkey underscores the need for the two neighboring states to have diplomatic relations and an open border.
“This incident has demonstrated in America, Armenia and Turkey how important it is that there be a serious initiative to fully normalize Armenian-Turkish relations,” he told RFE/RL in Yerevan.
“One of my own main goals is to explore the possibility of rejuvenating efforts to bring the countries together,” he said.
“The resolution will either pass or won’t pass. Either way, there is still going to be this problem out there that he is behind the whole controversy over the resolution. We have to get the two sides together,” he added.