Ararat Mirzoyan, left, and Jeyhun Bayramov

Azeri FM Seeks Direct Talks With Armenian Counterpart

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By Lusine Musayelian and Astghik Bedevian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — More than one month after canceling a US-mediated meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, Baku has proposed that they hold direct talks at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov revealed the proposal at a news conference on December 28. He did not say whether the Armenian side has already responded to it. There was no immediate reaction to Bayramov’s statement from Yerevan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to host Bayramov and his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan in Washington on November 20 for further negotiations on a peace treaty between the two South Caucasus nations. Baku canceled the meeting in protest against what it called pro-Armenian statements made by James O’Brien, the US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.

O’Brien visited Baku earlier this month in what appears to have been a failed bid to convince the Azerbaijani leadership to reschedule the canceled meeting. A senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on December 19 that Washington must reconsider its “one-sided approach” to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict before it can mediate more peace talks.

Aliyev withdrew from talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan which the European Union had planned to host in October. The EU too has been accused by Baku of pro-Armenian bias. Armenian leaders have suggested that Aliyev is simply dragging his feet on the peace treaty in hopes of clinching more Armenian concessions.

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Bayramov said on December 28 that Yerevan’s position on key details of the peace treaty has become more acceptable to Baku after Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive that led to its recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh. He did not shed light on that “progress” or the remaining differences between the two sides.

One of the key sticking points is their border disputes. Mirzoyan reiterated on December 27 that the peace treaty should contain a concrete mechanism for delimiting the Armenian-Azerbaijani border such as Soviet military maps printed in the 1970s.

The border issue has been one of the main sticking points in ongoing talks on the treaty. Hikmet Hajiyev, a top foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, said last week that Baku believes “the border delimitation issue should be kept separate from peace treaty discussions.” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov likewise noted afterwards that the treaty cannot “ensure a 100 percent solution to all issues.”

Baku continues to oppose that. Bayramov insisted on delinking the border issue from the treaty. He also said that the signing of the treaty depends on the “political will” of the Armenian side.

“We hope to see the extent of that political will in the coming days,” added the Azerbaijani minister.

Armenian opposition leaders have warned Pashinyan’s government against signing the peace agreement before the border delimitation. They say that Baku wants to leave the door open for territorial claims to Armenia.

“It is extremely important for us that the future delimitation process is predictable and its principles, its foundations are fixed in the peace agreement,” said Mirzoyan. “For us, a reference to [concrete] maps would be such a way of ensuring that predictability without predetermining the results [of the process.]”

The Armenian government has insisted, at least until now, on using specific Soviet military maps for that purpose. Baku rejects the idea backed by the European Union.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Mirzoyan said the conflicting sides continue to discuss the “possibility of incorporating maps” into the peace agreement.

“We don’t have the final text of the agreement,” he said. “Therefore, nobody can tell what the end result of the negotiations will be.”

Pashinyan and other Armenian officials themselves suggested this summer that Aliyev wants to leave the door open for future territorial claims to Armenia. Some Armenian analysts believe this is the reason why Aliyev keeps delaying further negotiations mediated by the United States and the European Union.

Mirzoyan on December 27 listed the “avoidance of high-level meetings” among “negative signals” coming from Baku. He said at the same time that Yerevan hopes the Azerbaijani side will adopt a “more constructive” stance in the coming weeks.

 

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