ATHENS (Combined Sources)–The foreign ministers of over 50 countries making up Europe’s largest security structure praised Armenia and Azerbaijan late Wednesday for their latest pledge to “work intensively” to overcome disagreements hampering the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“We urge the parties to sustain the positive dynamic of the negotiations and strongly support their commitment to finalize the Basic Principles on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, based on the Madrid Document in order to begin drafting a comprehensive peace agreement in good faith and without delay,” they said in a joint statement issued at the end of a two-day conference held in Athens.
“We are convinced there is today a real opportunity to build a future of peace, stability, and prosperity for the entire region,” the ministers added on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Karabakh Declaration: An Armenian Diplomatic Victory?
The OSCE welcomed in that regard a joint declaration adopted on Tuesday by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers as well as top diplomats from the United States, Russia and France, the three nations co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh.
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov held talks on Monday and Tuesday in addition to separate meetings with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. They were joined later on Tuesday by Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov of Russia and Bernard Kouchner of France and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.
In declaration, the five men noted the current “positive dynamic” in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “They agreed that the increasing frequency of these meetings has significantly contributed to an enhanced dialogue between the parties and forward movement toward finalizing the Basic Principles for the Peaceful Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, proposed in Madrid on November 29, 2007,” read the statement.
The statement, read out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said the conflicting parties reaffirmed their “commitment to work intensively to resolve the remaining issues” and cut a framework deal based on the internationally recognized principles of “non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Nalbandian described the declaration as one of the “greatest achievements of Armenian diplomacy.” He said that this was the first time the Co-Chairs had adopted a written statement underscoring the need to observe those three principles of international law.
The OSCE foreign ministers had also voiced support for those principles. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who serves as the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, emphasized the importance of their joint statement, at a late-night news conference. He said it is the first document of its kind adopted by at an OSCE ministerial conference in a decade.
Earlier in the day, the European Union called for an “appropriate combination” of these principles through Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, the current holder of the EU presidency. “We call again upon Armenia and Azerbaijan to take the necessary decisions to achieve a breakthrough with the endorsement of the Basic Principles proposed in Madrid on November 29, 2007,” Bildt told the OSCE conference.
Kouchner also mentioned the Karabakh conflict in his speech at the gathering, speaking of “significant progress” in the negotiating process. “Now is the time to make decisions and I exhort the two parties to seize upon the chance offered to them and finalize, without delay, the principles of settlement proposed to them,” he said.
Armenia and Azerbaijan Address the OSCE
Both Nalbandian and Mammadyarov stressed the importance of the five-party statement in their individual remarks to the OSCE. The Armenian minister emphasized the fact that Azerbaijan signed up to the principle of self-determination that has long been championed by the Armenian side.
Despite that, Mammadyarov insisted on the restoration of Azerbaijan’s control over Nagorno-Karabakh during his remarks to the council on December 2. “Providing self-governance for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan will be a just and durable solution, and it can dramatically reduce tensions and challenges for peace and stability in the region,” Mammadyarov said.
The remark highlighted the conflicting parties’ differing public interpretations of the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement outlined in the Madrid principles. The proposed agreement calls for the transfer to Azerbaijan of liberated territories linking Armenia and Karabakh and a future referendum of self-determination in the Armenian-controlled territory.
In his speech, Mammadyarov also accused Armenia of occupying almost 20 percent of his country’s internationally recognized territory, displacing hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis and destroying their cultural heritage. “We in Azerbaijan strongly believe that withdrawal of Armenian troops in a fixed time framework from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan will open a tremendous opportunity for the region, providing different environment of predictability, development and benefit for everyone and for the entire region. This is the core of the issue,” he said.
Speaking at the OSCE forum later in the day, Nalbandian accused Mammadyarov of seeking to “distort” the essence of the Karabakh conflict and international efforts to resolve it. That, he said, is hampering further progress in the peace process.
Nalbandian also asked the European security structure to take measures against Azerbaijan, whose military buildup is violating the ceiling set by the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, the Regnum news agency reported. “Azerbaijan is in breach of one of the founding principles of the OSCE: non-use of force and/or a threat to use force,” he said.
Closer to a Compromise
Both two ministers noted that the parties have moved closer to hammering out a compromise peace accord. “I should admit that there are positive dynamics in the latest talks and both sides together with the Minsk Group Co-chairs agreed to intensify negotiations,” said Mammadyarov.
But neither minister would be drawn on possible time frames for finalizing the basic principles that envisage a gradual resolution of the conflict. Nor did they mention the possibility of yet another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in the coming weeks.
The two leaders have held six face-to-face meetings this year. According to the mediators, they made progress “in some areas” at their last talks held in Munich on November 22.
Turkey Upholds Karabakh Precondition
Addressing the council on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed the importance of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan for the normalization of his country’s relations with Armenia.
Speaking about the international efforts to broker a solution to the Karabakh dispute, Davutoglu urged respect for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, saying it “must constitute the bedrock” of such a solution.”
“Turkey is of the view that efforts aimed at the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the creation of an environment of durable peace and stability in
the region are mutually reinforcing and have a direct impact on one another. The two processes cannot be seen in isolation,” Davutoglu added in a clear reference to Ankara’s demands on Yerevan to make heavy concessions in the Karabakh conflict for normal relations with Turkey.
Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, held talks on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting late Tuesday. Official Armenian and Turkish sources said the talks focused on the implementation of the recently signed protocols envisaging the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states and the reopening of their border. The official Turkish Anatolia news agency said the Karabakh issue was also on the agenda, a claim denied by Nalbandian. “We didn’t discuss the Karabakh issue,” he told journalists on Wednesday.
In a speech at the forum earlier in the day, Nalbandian warned Ankara against delaying the mandatory parliamentary ratification of the protocols. “Unjustified delays and preconditions, including a drive to link the issue with the Karabakh conflict, can harm both processes,” he said.
President Serzh Sarkisian issued a similar warning at the weekend before the summit. He implied that Yerevan could walk away from the agreements if Ankara fails to implement them within a “reasonable time frame.”
The Turkish Foreign Minister, however, reassured his Azeri counterpart during talks in Athens that his government would continue linking Karabakh to the normalization of relations with Armenia.
The Azeri Foreign Ministry said that Davutoglu told Mammadyarov that the ratification of the Armenian-Turkish protocols, signed on October 10 in Zurich, is “possible only after the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia ends.”