Representatives of France, Russia and the United States the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group are preparing to meet in Malta on June 22-24 with the aim of reinvigorating talks on achieving a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh question. Talks have stalled in recent months, as Armenia and Azerbaijan have shown signs of growing inflexibility in their respective negotiating positions.
The latest round of talks, originally scheduled for early June in Geneva, were postponed. On June 19, an Armenian politician told state television that the next meeting between President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliyev, would take place in August. There has been no independent confirmation about a meeting.
Aliyev and other Azerbaijani leaders have expressed pessimism in recent weeks over the Karabakh process, in part because of an apparent hardening of domestic public opinion against any solution that does not leave Baku in full control of Karabakh. Indeed, a growing number of politicians and analysts have called for a resumption of hostilities in an effort to re-conquer the ethnic Armenian-dominated enclave. "Our republic will have to resort to solving the problem militarily if the negotiation process over the Karabakh problem does not change," political analyst Eldar Namazov told the MPA news agency. Also complicating Azerbaijan's negotiating stance are widely circulating rumors that Aliyev is seriously ill.
In recent months, Baku has offered Karabakh broad powers of autonomy within Azerbaijan. However, the Armenian leadership has been steadfast in its insistence that a Karabakh settlement leave the enclave outside Azerbaijani jurisdiction. President Kocharian lays the blame for the stalled talks entirely with Azerbaijan. "There is now a pause in the settlement process which is no fault of ours," the Snark news agency quoted Kocharian as saying June 14. "We are ready to continue negotiations according to the principles established in the beginning."
The two sides reportedly settled on a broad framework for a settlement during earlier negotiations in Paris in March, and in Key West, Florida, in April. Details of the framework have not been revealed. Nevertheless, mediators were upbeat about settlement prospects following the Key West round. However, top Minsk Group officials encountered serious obstacles to peace during a tour of the Caucasus in May. [For details see the Eurasia Insight archives].
It is not the first time that the Karabkah talks have come tantalizingly close to a settlement. Strobe Talbot, a former US Deputy Secretary of State, told Turan's Washington correspondent that Armenia and Azerbaijan were "very, very close to peace" in the fall of 1999. In October of that year, Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian were assassinated in an Armenian parliament massacre, which had the effect of derailing Karabakh negotiations. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The parliament shootings occurred just hours after Talbot had concluded a visit to Yerevan.
"The massacre in Armenia parliament was catastrophe on the human, political and geopolitical level. From my personal dealings with Kocharian, Sargsian and president Aliyev I believe they were very close indeed. It is truly tragic," said Talbot.
At the same time Mr. Talbott expressed hope for the future. "I would not be however hopeless that that progress could be reinstated. It is unquestionably in the interest of the Armenian and Azerbaijani people to find a political settlement. There are has to be political will on the highest level and has to be international support. Those ingredients are all there with a question mark about political will in particularly Yerevan and Baku," Talbot said.
Kenan Aliev is a journalist based in Washington, DC.