Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia, Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia were invited, as a group, to a meeting with the most relevant foreign ministers of NATO countries during the alliance’s Washington summit. The NATO group consisted of Madeleine Albright of the United States, Robin Cook of Britain, Hubert Vedrine of France, Joschka Fischer of Germany (current holder of the European Union’s presidency), Knut Vollebaek of Norway (current holder of the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), and Ismail Cem of Turkey as the NATO country adjacent to the South Caucasus. NATO’s weighty presence and Russia’s absence combined to render this meeting unprecedented.
Kocharian, Aliev and Shevardnadze were urged during the meeting to try to settle conflicts in their region through direct negotiations with international assistance. The NATO countries’ ministers cited the territorial integrity of states, the refugees’ right to return, “maximum autonomy” for Karabakh and Abkhazia, and international security guarantees as the basis for such settlements (Reuters, April 25; Turan, April 26).
The increased emphasis on direct negotiations would seem to imply a corresponding de-emphasis on both the Minsk group in the Karabakh conflict and the Russian mediation in the Abkhazia conflict. The three presidents and the NATO ministers expressed interest in holding a follow-up session in a similar format. This, too, seems to presage a dilution of Russia’s arbitrating role. Using its once-undisputed preeminence as mediator in Abkhazia and its clout in the Minsk group, Moscow has driven both processes into an impasse because of its interest in freezing, rather than solving, these conflicts.
NAZARBAEV AFFIRMS FOREIGN POLICY INDEPENDENT OF MOSCOW.