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Kocharian Downbeat On Karabakh Peace

By Hrach Melkumian

President Robert Kocharian voiced on Monday skepticism about the long-awaited resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, citing Azerbaijan’s refusal to negotiate with the Karabakh Armenians and engage in joint economic projects with Armenia.

“I don’t have much optimism at the moment,” he said at a joint news conference with the visiting Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel.

Kocharian made the point that internationally sponsored peace talks, mainly taking the form of face-to-face encounters between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, will lead nowhere unless they are joined by representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). “I think that this format is not quite correct and does not reflect the essence of the conflict,” he said.

Azerbaijan, however, refuses to recognize the NKR as a separate party to the conflict, saying that the disputed region and Azerbaijani territories surrounding it are controlled by Armenia proper. An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman repeated last week that Baku will not negotiate with Karabakh representatives. He also rejected Armenian warnings not to raise the Karabakh issue with the United Nations.

The UN General Assembly is expected to discuss Azerbaijani claims about a massive resettlement of Armenians in the occupied Azerbaijani lands later this year.

In an interview with RFE/RL last week, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned that Baku risks reversing “serious progress” which he said he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov made during a series of talks earlier this year. He said the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must remain the sole international mediator of the Karabakh peace process. Azerbaijan will have to deal with the NKR if it insists on bringing the UN into play, he added.

Kocharian likewise stressed that the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France, represents the optimal mediation framework. He said the co-chairs have been “objective” all along and should not be blamed for the lack of progress.

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