Over the past week the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group travelled to Yerevan, Stepanakert and Baku in what French representative Jean-Jacques Gaillard termed a fact-finding mission intended to ascertain the precise status of the peace process. It was the first joint trip by the three co-chairmen to the region for thirteen months, since Azerbaijan's rejection last November of the OSCE's most recent peace proposal. That proposal was reportedly based on the conecpt of a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Over the past year, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met half a dozen times to discuss the prospects for a lasting settlement. But their shared insistence that such a settlement must entail compromise by both parties met with outrage among nationalist-oriented groups in both Azerbaijan and, to a lesser extent, in Armenia.
All parties to the conflict professed their readiness to resume peace talks within the framework of the Minsk Group. While castigating that body for its failure to present a draft peace plan acceptable to all parties, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev nonetheless conceded that his talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian cannot serve as a substitute for outside mediation.
Speaking in Baku on 14 December, U.S. co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh defined the twin objectives of the co-chairs' visit as preparing a new draft peace proposal and assessing the need for economic reconstruction in the region. What the new peace proposal would comprise is not clear, however. NKR Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian predicted that it would be very similar to the previous one, except that the contentious term "common state" would be replaced by a more neutral formulation.
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, told journalists in Yerevan on 13 December that Armenia still adheres to three basic principles: self-determination for Karabakh, plus guarantees of the enclave's security and unimpeded land communication with Armenia. (This latter principle focuses on the so-called Lachin corridor which links Karabakh with Armenia.) Oskanian also disclosed that when the OSCE-mediated talks do resume, the Karabakh Armenian community and representatives of the former Azerbaijani community of Karabakh will be included. But, Oskanian said, the Karabakh Azerbaijani representation at the talks would have a lower status that the Karabakh Armenians. (Liz Fuller)
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