Radio Free Europe, Czech Rep.
June 30 2006

Nagarno-Karabakh: Mediators Take The Process Public
By Liz Fuller


PRAGUE, June 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Lifting the veil of confidentiality
that has marked the Karabakh peace process since it began in 1992,
the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group
tasked with mediating a solution to the conflict have over the past
eight days gone public with a summary of the basic principles
currently under discussion.


While the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has confirmed that those
principles are largely acceptable, its Armenian counterpart has
highlighted several points that were either not clarified or not
discussed the interview U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Matthew Bryza gave on June 22 to RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani
services.

Meanwhile, the Karabakh Armenian leadership has rejected one point on
which Armenia and Azerbaijan have reportedly reached agreement,
namely holding a referendum on the future political status of the
unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The Karabakh Armenians
have further signaled their reluctance to cede all the Azerbaijani
districts they currently occupy before a firm agreement is reached on
the future status of the NKR.

Confidentiality Broken

Over the 14 years that the Minsk Group has been trying to mediate a
political solution to the Karabakh conflict, those involved have
generally abided by a "gentlemen's agreement" that the negotiating
process should remain confidential.

The rationale for doing so is primarily to avoid derailing the peace
process by alerting the public in one or other country to unpalatable
concessions required that opposition parties might seize upon to
discredit national leaders prepared to accept those concessions.

But the co-chairs, who have on several previous occasions deplored
the failure of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to prepare
public opinion for inevitable concessions, seem to have concluded
that going public may encourage the two presidents to demonstrate
what they term "the necessary political courage" and agree at least
to the basic principles of a settlement before the perceived window
of opportunity for doing so closes with the approach of parliamentary
elections in Armenia in May 2007.

The basic principles, as outlined in a statement by the co-chairs on
June 22 to the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna and posted on June
28 on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, point to a
"phased-package" approach to resolving the conflict, meaning that the
various elements of a settlement are agreed on simultaneously, even
though they are implemented successively, with one key aspect -- the
final status of the NKR -- to be decided by "a referendum or vote" at
some unspecified future date.

"These principles include the phased redeployment of Armenian troops
from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, with special
modalities for Kelbacar and Lachin districts [separating Karabakh
from Armenia proper]," said the co-chairs. "Demilitarization of those
territories would follow. A referendum or population vote would be
agreed, at an unspecified future date, to determine the final legal
status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

"An international peacekeeping force would be deployed," added the
statement. "A joint commission would be agreed to implement the
agreement. International financial assistance would be made available
for demining, reconstruction, resettlement of internally displaced
persons in the formerly occupied territories and the war-affected
regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. The sides would renounce the use or
threat of use of force, and international and bilateral security
guarantees and assurances would be put in place."

Those provisions correspond very largely to the ones contained in the
draft peace settlement proposed by the Minsk Group in May-July 1997,
the key difference being that the 1997 document contained no specific
mention of Kelbacar.

Practice Makes Perfect

The mediators said the conflicting parties would also have to work
out practical modalities of the Karabakh referendum. "Suitable
preconditions for such a vote would have to be achieved so that the
vote would take place in a noncoercive environment in which
well-informed citizens have had ample opportunity to consider their
positions after a vigorous debate in the public arena."

In a statement released on June 26, the Armenian Foreign Ministry
highlighted what it said were further key details and omissions. It
noted that the co-chairs' statement did not note the need to grant
the NKR "intermediate status," presumably meaning that it would be
under international control, until the holding of the referendum on
its final status. A further "gray area" not touched upon in the
Armenian Foreign Ministry statement is the future status of several
districts that prior to 1988 were part of the then Nagorno-Karabakh
Autonomous Oblast, but which Azerbaijan took control of in May-June
1991, expelling the Armenian population.

The Armenian statement stressed that the co-chairs, for the first
time, have affirmed their support for the idea, first floated in
December 2004 by NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Pierre
Lellouche and former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, of a
referendum on Karabakh's status, and that the Armenian and
Azerbaijani presidents have agreed on doing so.

Kocharian (second from left) and Aliyev (right) with other leaders in
Bucharest on June 5 (epa)It further said that at the recent meeting
in Bucharest on June 4-5 between Armenian President Robert Kocharian
and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani side
rejected an unspecified suggestion by the co-chairs as to how that
remaining area of disagreement could be resolved. By contrast, the
co-chairs' statement avoided allocating blame for the failure to
reach an agreement, saying only that "the two presidents failed to
agree."

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on June 29, Armenian Foreign
Minister Vartan Oskanian described the "principles" under discussion
as "all-encompassing," in that they cover all the principles
affecting the removal of the military consequences of the conflict.
He added that "only after full agreement on all these basic
principles will the parties begin work on elaborating an agreement on
the settlement of the conflict. In other words, the agreement on
principles will be comprehensive. The final agreement may envision
implementation over time."

Corridor Of Uncertainty

Asked to clarify the co-chairs' reference to "special modalities" for
Lachin and Kelbacar, Oskanian explained that the negotiating text
specifies that "there will be a [Lachin] corridor linking
Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia." He added that Armenia will insist that
that corridor "has the same status" as Karabakh. Oskanian also
explained that due to security considerations, "Kelbacar can be
returned only after the referendum is conducted and the final status
of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined."

He said this is the point of disagreement between the two sides to
which the co-chairs referred in their statement to the OSCE Permanent
Council last week. Oskanian said that the "principles" stipulate that
the vote on Karabakh's status will take place among the population of
Nagorno-Karabakh. Some Armenian opposition politicians have expressed
concern that the entire population of Azerbaijan would participate in
the referendum and vote against Karabakh's independence.

Asked the Armenian leadership's overall assessment of the
"principles," Oskanian said "this is not a perfect document. For
anyone. However, there are enough solid and balanced provisions, with
the right trade-offs on the main issues -- status, territories, and
security -- that we are prepared to continue to negotiate on the
basis of these principles," Noyan Tapan reported.

But the Karabakh Armenians, who to their frustration are excluded
from the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks under the Minsk Group aegis, are
unhappy with at least two of the provisions of the "basic
principles." Even before this week's disclosures, the NKR posted a
statement on its website on June 12 citing the arguments against
determining the republic's future status in a referendum. The article
reasoned that holding a further referendum would call into question
the legality of the referendum of December 10, 1991 in which the
overwhelming majority of the region's Armenian voters opted for
independence from Azerbaijan. It noted that most Azerbaijani voters
declined to participate in that plebiscite.

Return To The Front

And on June 26, Vahram Atanesian, who is chairman of the NKR
parliament standing committee on foreign relations, was quoted as
rejecting the "principles" as outlined by the Minsk Group co-chairs
on the grounds that they entail the "unequivocal return" of the
occupied territories -- the NKR's sole bargaining chip -- in return
for a decision at some unspecified future date on the republic's
status. Atanesian said his perception is that the Minsk Group is
pressuring Armenia to accept proposals that "are fully consistent
with Azerbaijan's interests."

Insofar as Azerbaijan has not definitively rejected the current
"principles," the present situation is reminiscent of that in the
summer of 1997, when Armenia accepted, albeit with reservations, the
modified Minsk Group package proposal, while Azerbaijan wavered, and
Stepanakert rejected it outright.

The biweekly independent Armenian paper "Iravunk" on June 27 drew the
comparison between the current principles and the 1997 plan, but went
on to make the point that unlike his predecessor Levon
Ter-Petrossian, President Robert Kocharian would never risk publicly
making a case for mutual compromise with Azerbaijan. Instead, the
paper suggested, Kocharian left it to the Minsk Group co-chairs to
do so.