The United States, Russian and French cochairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group spoke at a press conference in Yerevan Monday afternoon after what was their longer-than-usual regional tour, including stops in the capitals of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as in the disputed Nagorno-Karabagh region itself.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who chairs the Group from the US, was cautious not to give any precise period of time for a finalized framework agreement that the sides have been said to be inching towards and even close to signing by the end of this year.
“We would like that to be the case that we are just on the very edge of the agreement eing finalized, but we are not. But what I can say is that the mood between the presidents has improved significantly since the meeting November 2 in Moscow, for which we are grateful to our Russian colleagues,” Bryza said.
The US negotiator denied recent media speculations that the negotiations are months away from a big agreement and also that there is some secret protocol leading to a nontransparent set of commitments by Armenia.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” Bryza said. “There can be no secret protocols… I don’t sense either president is looking at the negotiations as an opportunity to make concessions as much as a new opportunity to see the conflict from the other president’s eyes and find a way to achieve what each president needs to gain agreement of their society.”
Bryza’s French and Russian counterparts similarly sounded cautiously optimistic about a future peace plan.
“It is important to understand that we are at a preliminary stage of the elaboration of the future peace agreement. Of course, it would be great if we could already be discussing all the details of the situation on the ground, but, unfortunately, we are not yet. We are still at the level of formalization of the general basic principles,” said Bernard Fassier, the Minsk Group’s French cochairman.
And Yuri Merzlyakov, of Russia, added: “The sides’ agreeing with the basic principles of settlement does not yet mean the elaboration of a peace accord, which will also take some time.”
The cochairmen made the statements after meeting the leaderships in Azerbaijan, Armenia, as well as Nagorno-Karabagh to where they traveled from Yerevan over the weekend.
The current negotiations for a settlement in the protracted dispute are believed to focus on proposals drafted by the Minsk Group and presented to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE summit in Madrid in November 2007.
The mediators’ regional tour comes amid renewed international hopes for a breakthrough in the peace talks after the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged an intensified search for a solution to the long-running dispute.
Only about two weeks ago, in a joint declaration with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Serge Sargisian and Ilham Aliyev agreed to take into account the so-called Madrid principles of a Karabagh settlement — a proposed framework agreement that calls for a phased solution to the conflict eventually to end in a referendum of selfdetermination in Nagorno-Karabagh.
It is assumed that the Minsk Group proposals aim at reconciling the seemingly conflicting principles of international law, namely territorial integrity and self-determination.
Under the yet undisclosed plan, Nagorno-Karabagh is likely to enjoy an interim status before a referendum is held at some indefinite future date to decide its ultimate status.
Other provisions of such a settlement might include strong international guarantees of security to the population of the area backed up with an overland link connecting Nagorno-Karabagh to Armenia as well as financial aid from the international community for rehabilitation in the conflict zone.
In remarks to Armenian Public Television this weekend, President Sargisian, visiting Nagorno-Karabagh, listed a number of key prerequisites that he said would be essential to reaching an agreement.
“The Karabagh problem can be solved only if Azerbaijan admits that the people of Karabagh have and can exercise their right to self-determination,” Sargisian said. “And secondly, if Nagorno-Karabagh and Armenia have a shared land border and the population of Nagorno-Karabagh receive strong guarantees of security.”
After a meeting with Sargisian earlier on Monday, the Minsk Group troika did not disclose the details of the discussions.
“It is important to use and choose words very carefully,” Bryza explained.
The French cochairman, however, spoke about some of the isues concerning security.
“The security of Nagorno-Karabagh’s people in the present status quo is only depending on Nagorno-Karabagh itself and Armenia, with strong opposition, to put it mildly, from Azerbaijan. What we have in mind to try to create for the situation in the future is to ensure that the security of Nagorno- Karabagh’s people could be provided and guaranteed by a set of complex security measures and international guarantees as well as the agreement of these measures by Azerbaijan,” Fassier said.
“The people of Karabagh have to feel safe — safe from physical attack and safe from any economic pressure as well,” Bryza added.
And the Russian representative, Merzlyakov, said: “The [Armenian-controlled] territories now play a significant role in ensuring the Karabagh population’s security. If an adequate replacement can be found, including international guarantees of security, they can be returned.”