On 29 March 2019, the first official meeting was held between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Vienna on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs assessed the meeting positive and constructive. According their statement, “two leaders underlined the importance of building up an environment conducive to peace and taking further concrete and tangible steps in the negotiation process to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The leaders recommitted to strengthening the ceasefire and improving the mechanism for direct communication. They also agreed to develop a number of measures in the humanitarian field.” After the meeting, UN Secretary General in his statement welcomed creating an environment conducive to peace and called on taking further steps towards successful negotiations.
Both President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described the meeting as a new beginning. President Ilham Aliyev also evaluated this meeting as an indicator that the format of the negotiations remains unchanged. Because after Pashinyan became a Prime Minister, he started to draw zigzag regarding the format, principles and future of peace talks around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This meeting was very important for international community to clarify the stance of Armenia’s new government in terms of the future of the peace talks.
Pashinyan, who based his policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process on the thesis that the previous administrations had weakened the Armenia’s position, offered two suggestions to the Armenian community for this deadlock. The first is to ensure that the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians are included in the negotiation process by abandoning the Madrid Principles, which are the backbone of the diplomatic negotiations proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group’s Co-chairs. The second is to get rid of the political and economic embargo, which is one of the most important tools against Armenia in the hands of Azerbaijan in the process of diplomatic negotiations.
In order to achieve these goals, before the Vienna meeting, Armenian new Prime Minister tried to benefit from three important visits. He first visited Iran, and later Brussels. After that, new President of Georgia visited Armenia. All three countries play an important role for new Armenian government`s foreign and Nagorno-Karabakh policy. Because he couldn`t attract the interest from Washington and the general observations that his relations with Moscow is complicated.
During these visits, Pashinyan sought to achieve three important goals. Firstly, is to gain support for Armenian position in Nagorno-Karabakh resolution process. Secondly, to attract new investments and to develop new government’s foreign economic relations in order to soften the impacts of economic isolation in the region. Thirdly, to get political support for his new government.
Before Vienna meeting, he made his first visit to Iran on 27-28 February2019.Iran is the second alternative for Armenia to soften here conomic isolation. Armenia, tries to become a bridge for Iranian transportation and energy project between Iran and the Black Sea as well as Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union. In Tehran, Pashinyan proposed the gas transit to Georgia, when Saloma Zourabichvili was in Baku making supporting statements for the East-West energy and transportation projects that meant a kind rejection of Yerevan’s proposal.
On the other hand, Iran was subjected to the Western political and economic sanctions. Iran has its own problems, as they need 3.4 billion dollars for Iranian Armenian railway project. That is why during Pashinyan’s visit to Iran some sectorial agreements signed between both sides, which can unlikely change geopolitical situation in the region.
He made his second visit to Brussels on 4 March 2019. During his visit to the EU, Pashinyan tried to exert pressure on Azerbaijan through the EU official authorities. Here, the main concern of Armenia is the EU’s support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan in the new agreement to be signed between two. Pashinyan also expected economic support from the EU in the wake of his rise to power. But, the EU officials did not promise Armenia a new batch of investment in the current conditions, as well as for the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process.
Then important visit made by Georgian new president Salome Zourabichvili to Armenia on 13-14 March in 2019. Before Armenia, Zourabichvili had visited Azerbaijan and supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Armenian officials were expecting an explanation from the authorities of Georgia for that reason. Whereas, Zourabichvili accused Armenia for ostensible support of the territorial integrity of Georgia while taking steps that tend to harm the latter’s sovereignty. During the meeting with President of the National Assembly of Armenia President, Zourabichvili stated that, “recognition of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity not only verbally, but also factually is our one and only key interest.” Zourabichvili also mentioned that parties should work together and, based on international norms, move to a new stage of solving these conflicts. Otherwise, economic progress, stability, enhanced cooperation, and strengthening of the transportation and logistics ties with the EU and other countries are only verbal statements.” That statement meant that without settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Georgia could not support Armenian`s participation in the regional projects.
To sum up, prior to his visit to Vienna, Pashinyan new precondition to change the format for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict didn`t get support from the international community. Meanwhile, before Vienna meeting, Pashinyan couldn`t change the geopolitical conditions for Armenia. As he left Vienna with an empty hand, he couldn`t impose Armenian new precondition on Azerbaijan and returned with empty-hand.
Dr. Javid ValiyevHead of Foreign Policy Analysis department, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan