Saturday, 25 June 2011

Karabakh peace talks fail, to nobody's surprise

Who would have expected it? The latest round of peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, held in the Russian city of Kazan, have produced no results.

It's worth looking into the statements which emerge - or, more tellingly, do not emerge - after the collapse of these summits. They tend to give an admittedly fragmented and partial insight into why the meeting failed and who was responsible.

First off: the Minsk Group co-chairs, tasked with settling the conflict, have not released a boilerplate statement welcoming the progress made and calling for greater efforts, as they usually do. It's still very early and one will probably be forthcoming once the lower-level talks today (June 25th) have wrapped up. Nonetheless, the absence of a press release at the end of the main day of talks is telling. It suggests that either the co-chairs are confident some more positive steps can be eked out today, or that there is nothing worth releasing a statement about. Probably the latter.

Secondly, the joint release that was made - by Russia, hosting the summit, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan - was utterly anodyne. The only reference to the results is that "common understanding had been reached on a number of issues whose resolution will promote the conditions for approval of the Basic Principles." 

No details on these issues; no assessment of how far is still to go. Does this, for instance, mean any agreement on the perennial issue of withdrawing snipers from the frontline? On the wording of the preamble to the Basic Principles? Lacking anything of substance, we can only conclude that this statement means that nothing has changed.

So, who's to blame? Sifting the tea leaves of state-friendly media in both Baku and Yerevan suggests that in this instance Azerbaijan was responsible. The Armenian Foreign Ministry was quick off the mark, claiming that Baku "was not ready to accept the latest version of the basic principles" and wanted around a dozen changes. By contrast Azerbaijan's pro-government media has not flagged up the failed talks, and neither the Foreign Ministry nor the president's office have issued a statement. 

Of course, it's very early days. However, usually Azerbaijan and Armenia both scramble to put out statements blaming the other side as soon as they can - Baku's silence suggests that it was responsible for the breakdown of talks. But with the negotiating process so shrouded in secrecy and rhetoric, fully understanding what went on in Kazan is simply impossible.

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