By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Ambassador Steven Mann, the newly appointed chief U.S. negotiator on Nagorno-Karabakh, shed no light on prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict after holding talks with President Robert Kocharian and other senior officials in Yerevan on Monday.
Mann, making his first visit to the conflict zone in the current capacity, said he had a “very useful and warm meeting” with Kocharian but refused to disclose its details. “I want to preserve the confidentiality of our diplomatic dialogue,” he told reporters.
He was scheduled to meet with Ashot Ghulian, the foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, later in the day.
The U.S. envoy arrived in the Armenian capital three days after a meeting in Prague between Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his new Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mamedyarov. The talks were mediated by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The Armenian side hoped that they will finally clarify whether Baku is ready to revive a framework deal on Karabakh reportedly struck by the parties three years ago.
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, Oskanian said he and Mamedyarov spent most of their time in Prague familiarizing with one another and did not discuss any peace proposals in detail. He said they reached a tentative agreement to meet again next month.
Before becoming a co-chair of the Minsk Group, Mann for years served as a special U.S. representative to the Caspian Sea region, focusing on the development of its oil and natural reserves by Western multinational companies. He admitted that that his “familiarity with the region” played a major role in his appointment.
“It has been 25 years that in one way or another I have been working professionally with the Caucasus region and the former Soviet Union,” he said.
Mann also revealed that he will head for Tbilisi on Tuesday “for consultations with the Georgian government” before proceeding to Baku later this week. He did not specify the subject of those consultations.