Mediators play down prospects of early Karabakh settlement

Framework agreement negotiations continue

by Tatul Hakobyan

Published: Friday November 21, 2008

An accompanying table [pdf] presents the various proposals negotiated since the 1994 cease-fire, including the current framework proposal on the negotiating table. Armenian Reporter

Yerevan - After meetings in Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert this week, mediators Matthew Bryza of the United States, Yuri Merzlyakov of Russia, and Bernard Fassier of France, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, confirmed that no serious progress could be expected in the coming weeks or months in the negotiations over the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The co-chairs were in the region from November 12 to 17, in their first visit since the October 15 presidential elections in Azerbaijan and the signing of a declaration between Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Serge Sargsian of Armenia, and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan on November 2 near Moscow. During this visit, the co-chairs held talks with Mr. Aliyev, Mr. Sargsian, and the president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Bako Sahakian.

Perhaps for the first time since the collapse of the Key West talks in 2001, the mediators publicly confirmed that no serious progress in the negotiations could be expected in the coming weeks or months. This time they avoided formulations like "a golden opportunity exists."

[Meanwhile, on November 20, Mr. Sargsian called an unprecedented closed-door consultation about the Karabakh issue with the heads of all the political parties registered in Armenia. The Armenian Reporter's Armen Hakobyan reports that, according to participants in the session, the president's main message was that no settlement is imminent.]

The substance of the negotiations

Since the May 1994 cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, international mediators have, in the course of meetings and negotiations, offered several written proposals to the parties to the conflict. (See the Armenian Reporter's table. [in pdf format])

In the past the mediators worked on long documents, presenting them to Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku. The parties examined the suggestions for several days or even weeks, and then presented their stance to the co-chairs. The proposal presented in July 1997, which set out to resolve all outstanding issues (the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's status, security issues, and the consequences of the conflict) in a "package deal" format, was rejected by Armenians through Stepanakert.

In December of the same year, the mediators presented a "stage-by-stage" proposal (addressing security issues and the consequences of the conflict immediately and leaving the status of Nagorno-Karabakh's open to an unspecified future date). This proposal, which was accepted with serious reservation as a basis for negotiations by President Levon Ter-Petrossian, led to his resignation.

A year later, in November 1998, the OSCE Minsk Group presented the "common state" proposal, which was accepted by Yerevan and Stepanakert with some reservations; Baku rejected it. Azerbaijan also rejected the Paris-Key West proposal in the spring of 2001.

With the rejection of successive draft agreements by one side or another, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs adopted a new approach. They held series of separate and joint talks with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, known as the Prague process. Then, in August 2005, they presented President Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Mr. Aliyev with a one-page statement of principles around which they sought to secure the agreement of the Armenian side (Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Azerbaijani side. Only after the framework was agreed to would negotiations over a settlement agreement begin.

Moreover, if in the past the mediators prepared the proposals for the consideration of the parties, now the majority of the work was done by the foreign ministers. This method was meant to give the sides a greater stake in the resulting documents and make it more difficult for the parties to reject the outcome out of hand.

As in the past, the negotiations are confidential. However, the announcements, statements of concern, objections, and at times the deliberate leaking of information by the parties, the mediators, and different international organizations give us the opportunity to present the principles that are currently on the negotiating table and are being called the Madrid Principles. Madrid is where, exactly a year ago, the foreign ministers of Russia and France, Sergey Lavrov and Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Nicolas Burns presented a three-page document to the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The main difference between the 2005 Kazan and 2007 Madrid documents is that as negotiations have continued, issues, concerns, and sticking points have emerged; the mediators have set forth proposed solutions, and a one-page proposal has morphed into a three-page proposal. However, the four core principles around which Yerevan and Baku are negotiating have been preserved.

Let us present the four main principles.

First: The status of Nagorno-Karabakh will be decided though a referendum or a plebiscite at a time to be determined later. Participation in the referendum or plebiscite will reflect the demographic picture of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, as it was prior to the beginning of the war in 1991.

It is evident to all parties that the chances that a new referendum will actually be held are very slim. But it is very important for the Armenian side, specifically Yerevan, for Baku to agree (which it so far refuses to do) that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter to be decided by referendum - a matter of self-determination. This point continues to be a sticking point in the negotiations.

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