Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, left, with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan

Mediators Say ‘Reducing Tensions’ Key Ahead of Armenian-Azerbaijani Summit

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — International mediators brokering a peaceful solution to the protracted Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have urged the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to refrain from statements and actions “suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground” ahead of their summit talks expected soon.

In a statement published on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) official website on March 10, co-chairs of the Minsk Group Igor Popov, of Russia, Stephane Visconti, of France, and Andrew Schofer, of the United States, welcomed the commitment of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to meet soon under the auspices of the co-chairs.

The three said that working closely with the two countries’ foreign ministers, they “have been making preparations for this important leaders’ meeting,” which will be the first direct contact between Pashinyan and Aliyev conducted under the Minsk Group auspices.

The co-chairs stressed the importance of “maintaining an environment conducive to productive discussions and continue to assess positively the recent lack of casualties on the front lines.”

“The Co-Chairs also welcome some initial steps being taken in the region to prepare the populations for peace and encourage the sides to intensify such efforts. At the same time, the Co-Chairs reiterate the critical importance of reducing tensions and minimizing inflammatory rhetoric. In this context, the Co-Chairs urge the sides to refrain from statements and actions suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground, prejudging the outcome of or setting conditions for future talks, demanding unilateral changes to the format without agreement of the other party, or indicating readiness to renew active hostilities,” the mediating troika said.

Pashinyan and Aliyev traded accusations in their public statements earlier this month just days after the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group announced that the two leaders had agreed to meet soon for further talks.

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Speaking in parliament on March 6, the Armenian prime minister dismissed Baku’s offers to grant Karabakh a high degree of autonomy, insisting that “the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have a right to self-determination and must be able to exercise that right.” The Azerbaijani leader claimed, for his part, the day before that “Yerevan is not showing a serious desire to conduct substantive negotiations and is trying to impede a Karabakh settlement by all means.”

Referring to “some contradictory recent public statements on the substance of the Minsk Group process,” the Co-Chairs reiterated that “a fair and lasting settlement must be based on the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, including in particular the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

“It also should embrace additional elements as proposed by the Presidents of the Co-Chair countries in 2009-2012, including: return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.”

In their statement the Co-Chairs further stressed their view that “these principles and elements must be the foundation of any fair and lasting settlement to the conflict and should be conceived as an integrated whole.”

“Any attempt to put some principles or elements over others would make it impossible to achieve a balanced solution,” the mediators said.

“The co-chairs are prepared to meet with the leaders and foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan at any time, and call on the leaders to resume negotiations in good faith at the earliest opportunity,” Popov, Visconti and Schofer emphasized in their joint statement.

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