By Armen Zakarian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian remained on Wednesday tight-lipped about the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks in Prague, saying only that this year could be decisive for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“The second phase of the Prague process will be qualitatively different from the previous phases,” he said, referring to his face-to-face meeting with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on Tuesday.
“A serious political will and consistency must be displayed here. The year will be quite intensive,” he told a news conference Yerevan.
Oskanian again refused to divulge details of his meeting with Mammadyarov and separate talks with international mediators also held in Prague on Tuesday. He said only that the conflicting parties have yet to reach a full agreement on “the framework of issues” that have been the main subject of their discussions since last spring.
Mammadyarov was similarly reticent in his public comments. “He are happy with the current level of discussions,” Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying. “The main result of the meeting is that the parties agreed to continue negotiations in a positive spirit.”
Other Azerbaijani leaders insist that the parties have switched to the so-called phased strategy of conflict resolution preferred by official Baku. The Armenian side has insisted in the past on a single “package” agreement that would resolve all contentious issues.
In an interview with RFE/RL immediately after the Prague talks, Oskanian accused Azerbaijani officials of painting a distorted picture of the peace process. “I think we should avoid using such definitions. Such definitions are sometimes wrongly presented and misunderstood,” he said in reference to the two terms.
Some Azerbaijani experts, meanwhile, argued that a step-by-step settlement will not necessarily bring an end to Armenian control of Karabakh. “The talk might be only about their pull-out from a certain area in exchange for guarantees that Azerbaijan will never start a war,” one of them, Rasim Musabekov, was quoted as telling the Baku daily “Yeni Musavat.” “This means that we admit the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent districts.”
“Even under the stage-by-stage plan it is possible to accept a suggestion that can lead to the complete loss of Karabakh,” said Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the Baku-based Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.