Over the past two weeks, one former and two current top Azerbaijani officials have again affirmed their collective rejection of international mediators' insistence that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be resolved only on the basis of mutual concessions. Whether those Azerbaijani statements were intended primarily for domestic consumption, or whether and to what extent they should be construed as warnings to the international community not to pressure Azerbaijan too forcefully to agree to concessions that might trigger a major public backlash, is as yet unclear. Meanwhile, two senior U.S. diplomats have made clear that Washington continues to hope for a swift resolution of the conflict.
The first statement came on 15 July at a reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador to Baku, Reno Harnish, in honor of the visiting OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. Addressing the gathering, the three co-chairs each stressed that no outsider is in a position to resolve the conflict, and that the parties must themselves reach an agreement. In that context, they welcomed the resumption of talks between senior Armenian and Azerbaijani officials (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 9 July 2004). Vafa Guluzade, who resigned in October 1999 after serving for years as President Heidar Aliyev's foreign policy adviser (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 October 1999), publicly rejected that advice as "absolutely unacceptable and impermissible," and as intended to force Azerbaijan to come to terms with the loss of part of its territory.
In an interview with zerkalo.az published one week earlier, Guluzade had said that any country whose territory is occupied but which fails to prepare for a war of reconquest should be regarded as "criminal." He also suggested that both the U.S. and the "West Europeans" have failed completely to grasp the essence of the Karabakh conflict, otherwise they would realize the futility of trying to get Azerbaijan to reconcile itself to the loss of its territories. In addition, Guluzade disclosed that during his tenure as President Aliyev's adviser, "we discussed all variants" for resolving the conflict, and they were all "still-born:" Baku immediately rejected them as every single peace proposal unveiled to date entailed the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, Guluzade said.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, by contrast, opined in a 28 July interview with zerkalo.az that a new war "is not the optimum way" to resolve the conflict. But at the same time he implied that any compromise should come from Yerevan. A sensible compromise with the Armenian side can be reached only if Armenia publicly renounces the idea of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, Mammadyarov said. In that interview, Mammadyarov said he believes that each of the co-chairs (France, Russia, and the U.S.) seeks to promote its own interests in the South Caucasus. Several days earlier, however, he sought to imply that Washington does understand that many Azerbaijanis categorically reject the prospect of the loss of sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Mammadyarov was quoted by zerkalo.az on 22 July as saying that during his talks the previous week in Washington with U.S. officials, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that it is imperative to take public opinion into account when drafting a settlement proposal. The online daily further quoted Mammadyarov as saying that it is not "realistic" to speak of "resolving the conflict" until the displaced persons who fled during the fighting (in 1992-1993) have returned to their homes. It is not clear, however, whether by this Mammadyarov is advocating a "phased" approach to a settlement, or whether Baku would accept a "package" solution in which repatriation preceded the announcement of Nagorno-Karabakh's future status.
Finally, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told members of his country's diplomatic service on 27 July that "if the path of negotiations leads us nowhere, Azerbaijan will use all other means available, including the military option," Turan reported. Referring to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs' calls for "compromise," Aliyev said no compromises can be made over Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Aliyev has made similar statements on numerous occasions in recent months, most recently on a tour last week of northern districts of Azerbaijan. Both Mammadyarov and Aliyev stressed that international law favors Azerbaijan, which is the victim of "Armenian aggression," and the territory of which is partially occupied.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry reacted sharply to Aliyev's 27 July statement, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 28 July. Spokesman Hamlet Gasparian said Aliyev's comments show that "Azerbaijan has no desire to settle the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means and is laying its hopes on a solution by force." He warned that the latter course of action would have "disastrous consequences" for Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman, Ambassador Steven Mann, told Russia's Regnum news agency that he understands that the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are in "a difficult position" because passions are running high on both sides. But at the same time, he argued that the two presidents should eschew emotion and try to reach a compromise. On 28 July, zerkalo.az quoted John Ordway, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Yerevan, as urging that the conflict be resolved as soon as possible. The paper quoted him as saying that "the status quo is acceptable to the U.S. only as the sole alternative to the beginning of hostilities," and as expressing the hope that a settlement could be reached next year. That proposed timeframe prompted Azerbaijani commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov to conclude that Washington is trying to strong-arm Baku into a settlement lest the commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, now tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2005, be jeopardized by a resumption of hostilities.
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