On February 10-11, 2006, in the outskirts of Paris Rambouillet, President Robert Kocharyan of Armenia and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan held hours-long talks on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Despite expectations and predictions, though, the negotiations did not record a “breakthrough” in the peace process.
These talks were the sixth meeting between Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev. The first meeting of the two leaders took place in December 2003 in Geneva and was of a familiarizing nature. In April 2004, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Warsaw. “We cannot be proud of the results, but the tone and atmosphere of the negotiations are positive,” Kocharyan said after the meeting.
In September 2004, the third meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan took place in Astana - the longest in the history of their direct contacts. At the end of the hours-long talks, the leaders noted that they had discussed a wide range of issues related to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. In May 2005, Presidents Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev met again in the capital of Poland. Mediators assessed this meeting very positively, with the American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann, stating about a “chance for serious progress.”
In August 2005, Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev held talks in Kazan. After the meeting, it was announced that the parties considered it “a positive development in the negotiation process.”
On February 10, 2006, the talks in Rambouillet lasted approximately 4 hours in total. The face-to-face meeting between Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev was preceded by extended talks attended by the American, Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann, Yuri Merzlyakov and Bernard Fassier. The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov as well as the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Andrzej Kasprzyk also participated in the meeting.
Prior to the start of the talks between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, President of France Jacques Chirac received them at the Elysee Palace and expressed hope that the parties would be able to “lay the foundations for future settlement.”
The negotiations in Rambouillet took place behind closed doors. For the first time in the history of the meetings between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, representatives of the press were not allowed to the venue of the talks. Only personal cameramen and photographers of Kocharyan and Aliyev were permitted for a 30-second protocol shoot in Rambouillet.
At the end of the first day of negotiations, the parties made no statements. The talks resumed on the morning of February 11 by the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. After some time, the presidents took over, engaging in discussions for over 2 hours. It was planned that if the parties managed to overcome the remaining disagreements, the third round of negotiations would start with the participation of French President Jacques Chirac. This did not happen: shortly after the end of the meeting in Rambouillet, Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev left the French capital.
A statement issued on February 12, 2006 by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs stated that “despite intensive negotiations, the positions of the parties to the conflict on some sensitive issues have not changed.” The mediators stated that Kocharyan and Aliyev had instructed their foreign ministers to continue seeking ways to resolve the conflict.
The first signals that the negotiations in France may not live up to the high expectations placed on them appeared on February 8, when, speaking at the Stockholm Institute of Foreign Policy, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said:
“I had cautious optimism about the prospects of the Paris meeting, but due to the recent statements of the Azerbaijani leadership, it has turned into very cautious optimism.”
Most likely, Kocharyan was referring to the statements of the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, who, on the eve of the Paris meeting, repeatedly stated that the only possible option for Baku is the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into the rest of Azerbaijan.
“To achieve a solution, the parties must show political will and take certain political risks. The statements coming from Baku over the last 2-3 days lead me to think that there is either no political will in Azerbaijan, or it is insufficient,” the Armenian president said in Sweden.
On the eve of the meeting in Rambouillet, many drew comparisons with the situation five years ago, when the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan held a meeting in the capital of France, which seemed a key to resolving the Karabakh problem. It was in Paris that President Robert Kocharyan and Heydar Aliyev met on January 26, 2001. During those negotiations, French President Jacques Chirac outlined his vision of possible ways to resolve the problem and proposed principles on which a peace agreement could be based. These principles were later called the “Paris Principles” and formed the basis of the peace plan discussed at the Key West talks in April 2001, which envisioned the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenian sovereignty in exchange for providing Azerbaijan with a communication corridor through Armenian territory to Nakhichevan. However, by the summer of 2001, Heydar Aliyev rejected the Key West agreements and the peace process reached an impasse.
The new negotiations between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan were preceded by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries held in London in mid-January 2006. It was the foreign ministers of the two countries, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, who were considered the authors of the “Prague Process” launched in the spring of 2004.
After the return of the delegations, Yerevan refuted the statements of the Azerbaijani side that Robert Kocharyan had interrupted the negotiations in Rambouillet. In response to the statement by the head of the foreign relations department of the Azerbaijani president’s staff, Novruz Mammadov, that the “Armenian leader left the negotiations in Rambouillet unfinished,” the spokesperson for Armenian president Viktor Soghomonyan said that “Robert Kocharyan values his time and considers the imitation of negotiations, including for the extension of the stay in beautiful Paris, unserious.”
“In fact, on February 11 in Rambouillet, the President of Armenia proposed summarizing the negotiations when it became clear that no results would be achieved,” Soghomonyan clarified.
While Vartan Oskanian urged to refrain from “categorical assessments” of the meeting of Kocharyan and Aliyev in Rambouillet. According to Oskanian, “the fact that the presidents failed to reach an agreement in France does not rule out the possibility of making progress during this year.”
“The fact that no agreement was reached at the negotiations in Rambouillet does not cast a shadow on previous successes and the progress in the negotiation process that was noted in 2005. That progress remains valid. Obviously, the closer we come to resolving the conflict, the more complicated issues remain to be solved. The task facing the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Rambouillet is quite complex and it is not easy to resolve it immediately,” Vartan Oskanian said.
Photos of REUTERS and Photolur are used in this chapter.