Azeri, Armenian foreign ministers hold "sterile" meeting - paper

Ekspress, Baku
31 Aug 04

The Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers, Elmar Mammadyarov
and Vardan Oskanyan respectively, held another meeting in Prague
yesterday [30 August], as they discussed ways of settlement of
the Karabakh conflict with the participation of the OSCE Minsk
Group co-chairmen. Besides the ministers, the special envoys of the
Azerbaijani and Armenians presidents on the Karabakh conflict, Araz
Azimov and Tatul Margaryan respectively, also joined the talks. This
is Mammadyarov's fourth meeting with his Armenian counterpart.

Two-hour meeting

The talks started at 1630 Baku time [1130 gmt] ended at 1830 [Baku
time, 1330 gmt]. The two-hour discussions held in a large group was
followed by a face-to-face dialogue of the ministers. In their press
statements following the talks, the ministers said that they had made
"some successful and objective decisions" on continuing the dialogue
"on the level of the existing realities". But the parties did not
specify the nature of "the decisions" made "on the basis of the
principle of being constructive".

"This is another series of the Prague process, which has assumed a
long-term nature. Specific issues were raised and views were exchanged
during the talks," Oskanyan said.

He said the parties discussed "friendly" ways of settlement that are
based on mutual obligations. "We can continue the Prague process,"
he said.

Prague unlucky for Armenians

The main emphasis was laid on the next dialogue of the [two countries']
presidents. "We want the heads of state to conduct a 'dynamic dialogue'
along with the ministers," Oskanyan said. He noted that he had received
the "directions and blessings" of the Armenian president before
visiting Prague, but it did not yield any fruits. "We hold discussions,
talks, but cannot eventually come to a specific decision. Prague
seems to be unlucky for us," the Armenian minister complained.

Mammadyarov, for his part, said that the meeting had the nature of
mutual discussions. "We are pleased with the dialogue on this level.",
he said. The main outcome of the meeting is that the parties have
agreed to continue the talks "in a positive spirit". "We did not
discuss any specific proposals, we just expressed our opinion,"
the minister said.

What worries Azerbaijan is that during the talks the foreign ministries
of both countries take "their proposals" as a basis and aspire to
have the problem solved on their principles. Mammadyarov refused to
answer questions on the proposals by the Armenian side.

Issues pertaining to the recently escalating tension on the front-line,
as well as the Armenian military exercises in the occupied Karabakh
and the so-called municipal elections [there] were also discussed, as
Azerbaijan raised its objections to Yerevan on these three issues. "We
decided to treat these issues seriously and take into account their
impact on the negotiation process. I hope these cases will be put an
end to," Mammadyarov said.

Status issue again

Oskanyan told an interview with the A-INFO news agency yesterday
evening that the foreign ministers got closer to the resolution of
the problem again in Prague, but the opinions differed on the status
of Nagornyy Karabakh. "The Azerbaijani side is again disrupting the
order of the discussions. Therefore, we again had to hold discussions
on identifying the format, getting acquainted with the positions of
the parties and finding a common position. That is it."

The Armenian minister thinks that the latest Prague talks cannot be
regarded as "productive" judging by the results achieved. Nevertheless,
he noted that "there is a necessary potential" to continue the
dialogue.

Speaking of possible options for the settlement of the conflict,
Oskanyan said that it was important to reach agreement on the
status of Karabakh, while other issues should be resolved within its
framework. "I am ready to work with Mammadyarov on these conditions."

Co- chairmen

There was no proposal from the [OSCE Minsk Group] co-chairmen. "We
did not see any such proposal. The co-chairmen just came and went
away again," Oskanyan said.

He believes it is impossible to await "any potential" news from the
peace talks unless the co-chairmen present some "surprises" to the
parties to the conflict. Because the current discussions have the
aim of "coming to a dialogue".

"Under these circumstances, I do not think that the co-chairmen could
draft something on paper on the basis of the bilateral talks of the
foreign ministers and the heads of state. There is no consensus of
this kind yet", Oskanyan said.

The Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Yuriy Merzlyakov,
told Ekspress yesterday that the mediators gave a number of new
proposals and ideas during the meeting of the foreign ministers. "We
presented them with new proposals. Since these were open discussions,
the proposals were also disclosed and it was quite a business-like
meeting," he said. [Passage omitted: Merzlyakov happy with the talks
and the schedule of next meetings.]

Conclusion

Thus, judging by the joint statement made by the Azerbaijani and
Armenian foreign ministers yesterday, the Prague process "allowed
them to exchange views on possible steps forward".

In the statement, Armenia and Azerbaijan reiterated that "they are
interested in settling the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict and agree to
continuing this useful dialogue". Both ministers said it was necessary
to continue the future talks "in the current course".

It is hard to judge by these statements whether the Prague meeting
was fruitful. One may generally conclude from the above mentioned
diplomatic expressions that this meeting was sterile. In any case,
both parties stick to their own positions and neither talks of making
concessions so far. But on the other hand, the ministers meet behind
the closed doors and we do not know what they bargain over... [ellipses
as published]