VIKTOR YAKUBYAN: "KARABAKH CART" - AN OBSTACLE IN THE IRANIAN HIGHWAY

Regnum, Russia
March 14 2006

Right after the presidential talks in Rambouillet, it became clear
that no miracle happened in the Karabakh process, things in Armenia
were about to fall back into place, but the place turned out to be
displaced. In Azerbaijan it also got harder to fall back into. You may
call Rambouillet as you are pleased to - fiasco, failure, unexpected
off-the-way or logical half-way, but the fact is that the two societies
have suddenly realized that they have come to a new stage they need
to comprehend.

Dangerous cart

2006 was preceded by resounding statements by western non-governmental
and then official organizations about early Karabakh agreement. The
talks in France have seen no success, but the time is not over yet. One
can be sure that the western "optimists" will not give up that easily
and will bend over backwards to get this heavy cart - the Karabakh
process - off the ground. But they also know that there is one very
important peculiarity about it - once they get the cart moving they
will hardly be able to stop it, even more, predict where it will move.

Theoretically, in Rambouillet one should have expected a face-off
of Armenian constructivism, "sure" that inapplicable, and Azeri
radicalism, affected, that's why inapplicable.

But for all the schemes and theses proposed, the zero result was
obvious and quite correctly forecast by both Armenian and Azeri
analysts. Then what were the mediators so optimistic about? There can
be only one answer. Namely... Their optimism was for show, but, more
importantly, for purpose. Their purpose was obviously not to cheer up
the presidents, to put them off their guard and to slip the cherished
agreement for their signing. Not at all. It was to create acoustics
that would make "a zero" in Rambouillet sound dully dissonant with the
whole logic, mood, and, if you please, "the new reassuring freshness"
in of the sore negotiating process. They got their purpose... And
what did the co-chair states (Russia, France, the US) get net? They
got a new reality - something some, if not all, of them sought.

Back to the cart... Quite recently the mediators realized that to
get the cart off the ground they will have to remove the ground and
as urgently as possible - for they heard something very unpleasant
from Russia: about universality of the Kosovo precedent, and had to
loosen the hard grip of the Karabakh conflict sides before this might
happen and cover the only trump of one of the conflicting sides -
the principle of territorial integrity. This principle would simply
die then, giving place to a so-far lower quoted card - the right of
nations to self-determination - and Azerbaijan would have nothing left
but to stop the Karabakh talks and to engage in preventive activities
in its other regions. In fact, the task of the West (mostly of the
EU) now is either, until the Kosovo status is finalized, to draw an
absolutely new line for the Karabakh process to move it outside the
conflict of the above principles, or to freeze the Kosovo process
until there is clarity in Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and
Karabakh. (By the way, the sudden death of Milosevic has brought this
scenario into focus).

Following the same logic, one can't help noting that it was exactly the
Armenian side - expectedly less cooperative - who came to Rambouillet
under the "mask" of readiness for compromise. Such tactics would
allow it to blame Baku for the outcome - to say that Azerbaijan has
once again refused to meet half-way. On the whole, the Rambouillet
talks could develop in two ways: either Ilham Aliyev rejects the
proposals of the mediators and the concessions of the Armenian side
and continues his militarist populism (a behavior the international
community would hardly take as serious) or he agrees to a real dialogue
on all key points, leaving no chances for status-quo.

The former scenario would allow Kocharyan to complain of Baku's
destructive position and to make off. The latter scenario would see
him signing (orally securing) some framework agreement or employing
his arsenal of diplomatic tricks to get things right.

Judging from the post-Rambouillet developments, Armenia's purely
tactical constructivism must have come across some illogical maneuver
by Azerbaijan. For example, Aliyev might show some real commitment
to go from words to actions and, for the beginning, to satisfy
the mediator's proposals on how to overcome the status quo. It was
all but just a wish to make some nice surprise. Simply Aliyev had
obligations to the West, who was silent when he was breaking the back
of his opposition.

Preceding Rambouillet was a rigorous campaign for several key ideas:
the deployment of an international peacekeeping contingent in the
Karabakh conflict zone, the opening of transport routes, the return
of refugees and - a new referendum as a way to determine Nagorno
Karabakh's status. Even if Aliyev agreed to the referendum after all
his previous aggressive and radical rhetoric on TV, Kocharyan would
rush headfirst to specify details - when, how and on what legal bases
the referendum will be held. Or Kocharyan might raise one more hard
question - whom the sides want to see in the peacekeeping contingent.

And so, Baku's constructivism might crush against Yerevan's
super-constructivism - quite a risky game: relieving for the sides
and tricking for the mediators.

"Post-Rambouillet" - chronology

Back from the talks the Armenian side got down to measures to prevent
possible pressure by the US. The US State Secretary's pre-Rambouillet
phone talks with each president were in vain. Something went wrong...

In a special interview on Rambouillet Kocharyan said that "the sides
failed to agree on one important principle." What principle he is
talking about - the status or the composition of the peacekeeping
force - we can only guess. What we can be sure of is that the Armenian
president did not mean "Azerbaijan's territorial integrity."

"In any case, Yerevan has decided not to make further ado and to
show its claws - just in case - while Baku has cooled down a bit,
preferring to wait and see what will happen next. In fact, after
Rambouillet there is no more sense in war bravado - they should either
start the war or not even mention it."

As regards the reaction of Karabakh President Arkady Gukasyan and
the following response of Armenian President Robert Kocharyan - this
polemic is just to show how elastic the Armenian diplomatic arsenal
is. No coincidence that Gukasyan's interview was broadcast by RFE/RL -
it was for export. Gukasyan advises Armenia to withdraw from the talks
(which are almost inexistence after Rambouillet) and insists that
Karabakh should be involved therein - which is secretly and openly
good for Yerevan.

Armenian Ex Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanyan says that "Gukasyan
might have coordinated his statement with Kocharyan and after the
failure of the Rambouillet talks this may be a joint threat to
Azerbaijan and the world community - a threat to withdraw from the
negotiating process." But, in fact, Gukasyan said what the whole
Armenian nation wanted to hear - while Kocharyan's reaction has
raised Armenia's responsibility to both Karabakh and the OSCE MG
co-chairs. In their turn, the Armenian Defense Ministry's regular
reports of state border firing have had a colossal mobilizing effect.

As you may see, the Armenian side has taken a whole series of tactical
steps to transform the public and negotiating moods.

It would be na´ve to think that the US - the key lobbyist of
peacekeeping in Karabakh, would be moved by the moves of Yerevan
and Stepanakert. Having almost fully brainwashed Azerbaijan,
Washington was ready for predictable steps by Armenia and sent right
away its leading functionaries to Yerevan. For now - Matthew Bryza
(Assistant Undersecretary of State for Europe and Eurasia) and soon -
his boss Daniel Fried and OSCE MG US Co-Chair Steven Mann with their
situational recognizance. In quite a short time the US Department of
State appeared with a row of slating reports that qualified Armenia
as a corrupt country whose authorities do not fight drugs trafficking
and violate human rights.

Meanwhile, in a Mar 9 meeting in OSCE Yerevan Office the OSCE
ambassadors passed an urge to the Armenian authorities not to waste
time and to start actively preparing for the parliamentary and
presidential elections in 2007 and 2008. "The coming elections will
be decisive for Armenia," that's what they said. In such a situation,
the mediators are meeting in Washington, while the next FM meeting
is scheduled for Mar 20 in Istanbul! Why not Baku then? In his turn,
OSCE MG US CO-Chair Steven Mann says to AzerTag that if the sides fail
to agree in 2006 it will be a tragedy. If the sides miss the chance
there will be a tragedy, Mann said, not specifying though what kind
of tragedy there will be.

Conclusion

The Americans are systematically preparing the South Caucasus for
possible excesses in Iran. No doubt they are - judging from their
military activity in the region. The Karabakh conflict the way it
is now is an impassable jam. The region has in fact been turned
into a very inconvenient ground - in both military-tactical and
communicational terms. One can say when the US will launch its massive
pressure on Iran if one looks at its tactics in the Karabakh peace
process. If Washington is forcing the sides to solve the problem in
2006, it will probably close the circle around Iran no later than
2007-2008. Washington needs to take the Karabakh cart off the Iranian
highway. Bush simply can't linger with Iran any longer - he is facing
presidential election in 2008. Already today over half of Americans
want Bush to resign, blaming him for starting war in Iraq and allowing
phone tapping, which is also a part of the "Big Near East" adventure.

Viktor Yakubyan - expert for South Caucasus problems

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