Another Disappointment in the Making in Astana

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

The current political week is fully scandal-ridden, as WikiLeaks divulges secret underhanded deals by major and minor powers. And nations caught by surprise are running for cover.

The leaks have provided a field day for journalists and commentators.

On the margins of this scandalous week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is holding its seventh meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, with the participation of 50 nations, scheduled to take place December 1-2.

The summit meeting already has an overwhelming agenda in order to deal with many intractable problems in a very limited time. Originally, the presidents of the OSCE co-chairing countries were supposed to be attending. But early on, the US announced that the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, would be representing her country. Very recently French President Nicholas Sarkozy changed plans (perhaps to continue chasing gypsies from his country) and was replaced by the newly-appointed Prime Minister Francois Fillion. Therefore, from the three co-chairing countries, only Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, will be present. That is an indication as to how important this meeting is for the major powers.

The summit will mostly deal with problems created after the collapse of the Soviet Union, namely the frozen conflicts in the Caucasus and Trans-Dniestr, as well as an old chestnut, Afghanistan. It is anticipated that Georgia will complain about the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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What Armenians are interested in most is the Karabagh conflict, which is also on the agenda.

Many words of caution are being transmitted from different quarters, warning the participants and the general public not to expect miracles. It seems that Karabagh, like other regional frozen conflicts, will be a topic of discussion but not a resolution.

In an article published last week in the Armenian press, the former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was warning the participants that they would be spinning their wheels in Astana, unless there were prepared documents to be signed.

Therefore, Astana is neither the beginning nor the end of any meaningful resolution process.

It was announced that the first head of state to arrive there will be Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev. There was much speculation about the participation of Armenia’s president, Serge Sargisian, after his refusal to attend a NATO meeting in Lisbon, protesting a resolution that the organization adopted, giving priority to the principle of the territorial integrity rather than self-determination. The latter is Karabagh’s main legal leg to stand on in the realm of international law.

The OSCE co-chairs have already visited the region. After their meeting in Baku with Aliyev, they also met Sargisian in Yerevan and they are heading at the present time to Astana almost empty handed.

The US Embassy in Yerevan has released an announcement that Washington will be participating in the Astana summit to see the Helsinki Final Act principles applied to the conflicts on the agenda. An almost-identical announcement was issued by the French Embassy.

Political observers are watching at this time how the Lisbon signatories will reconcile the two unreconcilable principles.

In Lisbon, they had subscribed to the principle of territorial integrity (Kosovo and Cyprus not withstanding), yet the congregation in Astana was to revive the Helsinki Final Act Resolution, which is based on the principles of territorial integrity, right of self-determination and resolving problems through peaceful negotiations.

When asked whether the Minsk Group will come up with any new proposal or document, the French co-chair of the OSCE, Bernard Fassier, responded that the Madrid Principles were submitted to the parties and that solutions are expected along the lines of those principles. He also reminded journalists of the declarations issued by the presidents of the US, France and Russia, about the Karabagh conflict.

It seems that the Astana summit will turn out to be a routine gathering with no real prospect of solution on the critical issues on its heavy agenda.

It is even questionable whether President Sargisian and Aliyev will even meet at Astana.

Every time they meet, Aliyev returns to Baku to provoke many more border incidents with an ever- ncreasing number of victims. The leaders of major powers keep warning that there is no military solution to the Karabagh conflict, yet Aliyev turns those warnings into a mockery, every time inciting border incidents and elevating his belligerent rhetoric.

The situation is so grave that Armenia’s president attended the war games in Karabagh and issued a stern warning to Azerbaijan, that playing with fire may prove to be counterproductive.

Delegates are heading to Astana in this tense atmosphere, with no tangible proposal to bring about a break through. Therefore, it is very apparent that the Astana Summit will be a new disappointment in the making.

The only way to avoid bitter disappointment is to set the expectation bar very low.

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