By Emil Danielyan
The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced on Wednesday that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in France on February 10-11 to try to reach a framework agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht confirmed the date of the crucial summit after holding what he described as “excellent discussions” with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
“The main purpose of my visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan is to prepare the meeting that will take place on February 10-11 in the Rambouillet suburb of Paris,” de Gucht told a joint news conference in Yerevan with Oskanian before proceeding to Baku later in the day.
“On the basis of my discussions with the president this morning, I think there are hopes that we can come to an agreement in Paris,” he said. “But we should not take this for granted as we still have some problems to tackle. Both presidents will need a lot of wisdom and political courage to overcome them in Paris.”
In Oskanian’s words, Kocharian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev will likely concentrate on a “one-page document” which was put forward by international mediators and discussed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in London last week. He said the document includes the “basic principles of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“Once there is an agreement on these principles, the experts groups, with the help of the co-chairs, will try to transform that one-page paper into a more substantial draft document which will serve as a basis for future negotiations,” added Oskanian.
The peace deal discussed by the parties would reportedly allow Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to decide its status in a referendum to be held in 10-15 years from the start of Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani territories surrounding the disputed region.
Oskanian cautioned that there are still some differences between Yerevan’s and Baku’s positions, but he declined to elaborate on them. Both Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov have described their two-day London talks as “difficult.” They have also made it clear that further progress in the peace process depends on the outcome of the Aliev-Kocharian meeting.
De Gucht underlined unusually high international expectations from the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit when he spoke of the need for the OSCE to prepare a peace-keeping operation in the conflict zone “as soon as possible.” Logistical aspects of such a mission are already examined by OSCE military officials who toured last month areas in western Azerbaijan close to the Karabakh frontline. They arrived in Karabakh on a similar fact-finding trip to Karabakh at the weekend.
Oskanian noted that some unspecified OSCE member states have already expressed readiness to deploy peacekeepers in the region. He refused to be drawn on the possible make-up of the multinational force, saying only the Armenian side will block Turkey’s participation in the mission in any case.
Another country which would likely be ready to commit troops for enforcing Karabakh peace is Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov admitted this during a visit to Baku on Tuesday. However, Russian participation may well be opposed by Azerbaijan which has long accused Moscow of siding with the Armenians.
While in Yerevan, de Gucht also met late Tuesday with Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian. Speaking to reporters after the lengthy meeting, Ghukasian reiterated his skepticism about the possibility of a peaceful settlement. “I want to be optimistic, but see no grounds for that,” he said, adding that the Rambouillet talks “will not have a fateful significance.”
Ghukasian also complained that the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not fully informed about the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks. “There are issues which are now quite uncertain for us,” he said. “And because we are not taking part in the processes they will naturally remain uncertain until we get answers to those questions.”
Ghukasian’s statements increasingly contrast with the upbeat mood among the mediators and Armenian and Azerbaijani officials. They are construed by some observers as a sign that the Stepanakert government is unhappy with the peace formula which Aliev and Kocharian seem close to agreeing on.
The two presidents will meet in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group at Rambouillet’s historic chateau. The former royal residence served as the venue for a 1999 international peace conference on the conflict in Kosovo. A peace accord reached there subsequently collapsed, triggering a NATO campaign of air strikes against what was then called Yugoslavia.