During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Armenian Paper Suggests U.S. Plans Between Enhanced Karabakh Role for Iran

BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom
May 10, 2001

The Armenian newspaper Azg has suggested that the reason why the USA proposed a greater role for Iran in the Karabakh mediation effort at the April talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in Key West is that it hopes in this way to gain Iranian consent for its plans to deploy peacekeepers in the region should the conflict be resolved. The USA is also hoping Iran will consent to another plan dear to its heart - the opening of a rail link from Kars to Baku, via Armenia and the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan. The following is text of Tatul Akopyan report by Armenian newspaper Azg on 5 May entitled "Armenia and Azerbaijan can conclude an agreement by the end of the year"

What did Key West symbolize and why was the role of Iran considered important during the negotiations?

On 19 April the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Armenia said, in response to a number of inquiries from Armenia's mass media, that "Iran is attentively observing events in the Caucasus, including the current process in settling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and will state its official position at a suitable time".

The most interesting, and to some extent provocative moment in the Key West negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict, was the fact that Iran's role was given prominence. It was a surprise as this was done by Iran's enemy, the USA. The American cochairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Carey Cavanaugh, said the Iranian leadership should be informed of the results of the negotiations. Official Tehran is supposedly already aware of the details of Key West negotiations. This, again supposedly, took place during the second half of April, during meetings between French Ambassador Philippe de Suremain and the Iranian authorities, at the end of his diplomatic mission.

It should be recalled that Philippe de Suremain went to Key West with the mission of informing official Tehran about the results of the negotiations, which shows that Iran's role in the Karabakh settlement did not arise accidentally. Iran has still not responded to this.

During the planned negotiations in the "2 plus 3" (Kocharian-Aliyev + Russia-USA-France) format, due to take place in the second half of June, it will become clear how Iran treats the U.S. proposal regarding a possible settlement in the South Caucasus.

During the negotiations, settlement of the Karabakh conflict and the problem of opening up means of communication were discussed as a package, but some observers believe that the opening of means of communication has always been considered more important. During the Key West negotiations, special attention was paid to the possibility of resuming the Kars-Gyumri-Yerevan-Nakhchivan-Megri-Baku railway and, according to the American project, to deploying peacekeeping forces in the most unsettled sectors, which they believe to be the Nakhchivan and Megri sectors, then the areas of Zangilan, Jabrayil and Fuzuli bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh. Clearly such a suggestion, which is in some senses imperative, is inadmissible for Russia and Iran. Washington and Moscow can undoubtedly make compromises on this matter.

As [Russian President Vladimir] Putin said in his message to [US President George] Bush: "Mutual cooperation over Karabakh is a good example that our countries can successfully cooperate on the issue of settling serious regional problems." At a semi-official level, Moscow has said several times that it would not be against the deployment of international peacekeeping forces, if Russian peacekeepers were included in it. It would be desirable for these peacekeepers to be from neutral countries.

The question of Iran is much more difficult: Tehran is nervous about the possible presence of NATO or US soldiers in the South Caucasus. The absence of Washington-Tehran relations is an added factor in this. Undoubtedly communications between the authorities in the USA and Iran have never stopped over the last 21 years - they have taken place with the mediation of neutral Switzerland. That is why the continuation of the Key West negotiations in Geneva is also symbolic.

Why is Iran's role being played up, and around specifically which issue may Washington and Tehran bargain? It is perfectly clear that the resumption of the Kars-Gyumri-Yerevan-Nakhchivan-Megri-Baku railway, and the deployment of international peacekeeping forces cannot happen if Tehran does not want this. The question of how to persuade Iran arises. It is not realistic to simply persuade a state as powerful as Iran. That is why it is necessary to promise something, to make compromises on some questions, to take into account Iran's interests and viewpoint.

Let us leave aside possible compromises and note that Baku-Tehran relations have recently become tense. In 1994 the events taking place in Karabakh and adjacent territories created a situation in which the north of Iran in fact bordered on Nagornyy Karabakh, which is not recognized by any state. It is safe to assume that, having vital interests in the South Caucasus, the USA, Russia, the European Union (in the shape of France) and Iran share the same view on not handing over Nagornyy Karabakh to Azerbaijan, though the four countries also recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The superpowers regard NKR as a separate strategic unit in the South Caucasus, outside Azerbaijan and Armenia, a factor for taming Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the best key factor for applying pressure to them.

It makes no sense to return to the importance of NKR-Iranian land communications for Tehran. If this link were to be "de jure" consolidated by an agreement on settlement of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict, Iran would have to adopt a more flexible position over the functioning of the Kars-Gyumri-Yerevan-Nakhchivan-Megri-Baku railway.

If this is the scenario for Iran's involvement in the Karabakh negotiations, Baku simply opposes it. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev has stated that "Iran's participation in the Armenian-Azerbaijani Karabakh conflict is impossible". Guliyev noted that: "No proposal has been made for Iran to participate in negotiations since the time when the OSCE Minsk Group took over responsibility for reaching a settlement."

According to well-informed sources, a split took place within the Azerbaijani delegation in Key West when it was announced that Iran should be informed of the results of the negotiations and about its possible involvement in that process.

Heydar Aliyev is effectively faced with two options: either to agree to Iran's participation in the settlement process, and in compensation be allowed to hand over power to [his son] Ilham, or to reject the US proposal, which could mean the Aliyev clan's departure from the Azerbaijani political scene.

Pressure was also brought to bear on the Armenian delegation in Key West. On returning from Florida, Robert Kocharyan noted at Zvartnots airport that "there was an acceptable level of pressure upon the sides". It is obvious that the US side has not given up on the idea of establishing a possible land link between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan, and continues to affirm this option.

It is no coincidence that the joint statement by the political forces of the [Armenian] National Assembly says: "During the negotiations, no Armenian territory can become a point of dispute and no possible communications link can be established at the expense of Armenia's territorial integrity or self-government."

What Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan told the Austrian paper Kurier on 1 May is noteworthy from the point of view of speculation about a territorial exchange: "We are negotiating about free movement from Armenia to Karabakh and from Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan." Armenia's foreign minister also spoke about the possibility of the Caspian pipeline being laid via Armenia: "At the moment this question has not arisen, though experts say that the laying of the pipeline via Armenia is the most profitable option from the economic point of view. We would welcome the laying of the pipeline via Armenia."

There is a contradiction here: on the one hand President Kocharyan says that " no Armenian territory can become a point of dispute and no possible communications link can be established at the expense of Armenia's territorial integrity or self-government", while on the other hand Vardan Oskanyan talks about "free movement from Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan".

Here the American fantasy, Key West, may help as it is connected with Florida by a road, or rather a causeway. Time will show whether the American fantasy will become a reality?

Source: Azg, Yerevan, in Armenian 5 May 01 p 1

/BBC Monitoring/ © BBC.

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