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Interviews, articles and comments

Interview of Edward Nalbandian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, to the "Off the Agenda" programme. Part 1

29.12.2017

Agnessa Khamoyan: As a rule diplomacy, especially the one that deals with the conflict resolution, is silent, though there are exceptions. Good evening, "Orakarg” (Off the Agenda) is hosted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and today my interlocutor is Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. Good evening, Mr. Nalbandyan. Thank you for this meeting.

Edward Nalbandian: Good evening.

Question: I know you have a heavy working schedule at the end of the year. Mr. Nalbandian, the year was rich with significant diplomatic events, in various ways, which we will touch upon in the course of the interview, but since the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution is the most important for us, I suggest, with your permission, to start our conversation right from there.

Mr. Nalbandian, the issue entered into a new phase after the April war, and after a long pause, this year a meeting took place in Geneva - the first high-level meeting after the Vienna and St. Petersburg Summits of 2016.

After the last meeting between you and your Azerbaijani counterpart, you said that it was held in a rather good atmosphere. In general, what do we have today with regards to the conflict settlement and do you think that such meetings really yield positive result?

Edward Nalbandian: The Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution, as you know, is a long-term process. Why there are no results so far? In my speech in Vienna at the OSCE Ministerial Council, I enumerated nine reasons for that. Those nine reasons are the obstacles created by Azerbaijan for years that hinder the advancement of the peace process.

What do we discuss, and how the process develops? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, it is hard to think that something new can be invented. On numerous occasions the Co-Chair countries have made their proposals, the issue has been raised to the level of the presidents, and the heads of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries made five statements in this regard. Armenia, repeatedly welcoming them, has stated that we are ready to continue the negotiations and move to the settlement based on the proposals, as well as the principles and elements outlined in these statements, that were presented as an integrated whole.

The significant difference between the approaches of Armenia and Azerbaijan is that Azerbaijan is trying to present some fake proposals allegedly made by the Co-Chairs, to invent some fake negotiation processes, which have nothing to do with the reality, since it was exactly during the last OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna where in the ministerial level statement of the Co-Chair countries on behalf of Lavrov, Tillerson and the head of the French delegation, it was once again reaffirmed that there are precise proposals and principles, which serve as the basis for this negotiation process.

As you rightly mentioned, the last meeting with my counterpart in Vienna generally passed in a positive mood. But you referred to the Geneva Summit too, that we also had characterized as the one that in general passed in a positive atmosphere.

But what happened after the Geneva Summit? The groundless allegations, belligerent rhetoric immediately followed it. After our meeting in Vienna, even the stage of the OSCE Ministerial Council was exploited again to voice some threats.

Therefore, yes, the meeting was held generally in a positive mood in the sense that the talks, negotiations continue, because there is no alternative to negotiations, and these negotiations are not fake. For example, the last meeting of the Foreign Ministers lasted for about four hours. As you understand it is impossible to have something fake during a four hour long meeting. We have had intense meetings, sharp discussions.

Question: What exactly do you discuss behind the closed doors, Mr. Nalbandian? Do you discuss a specific document regarding the settlement, any provisions, what exactly do you discuss?

Edward Nalbandian: It depends on the meeting, on where we are in the negotiation process. For instance, the last meeting in Vienna was in December. What have we discussed? The summit was held before that meeting, where an agreement was reached on the presidential level. What was the agreement about? Firstly, to take additional steps to reduce the tension on the Line of Contact and to intensify the negotiation process.

How to reduce it? It was emphasised and agreed upon during the summits in Vienna and St. Petersburg. And you know well, and not only you, everyone knows well that Azerbaijan was trying to pretend that there were no agreements. Baku has not spared efforts to derail the implementation of those agreements and even claimed that Armenia had put forward preconditions, which should be realised in order to proceed with the negotiations. This was very far from the reality, as it is evident from the last statement of the three Co-Chairs who stated that all the Summit agreements should be implemented.

And not only that. Let me open the brackets a little bit. I posed a question to my counterpart: well, the Presidents agreed to take additional steps to reduce tensions, but is Azerbaijan ready to reaffirm its commitment to the trilateral ceasefire agreements of 1994-1995, which have no time limitations?

And this is not only our demand. For years the Co-Chair countries have reiterated this call. It is known that both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have always stated that they remain committed to these agreements, while Azerbaijan by all means tries to backtrack from them. If Azerbaijan fails to reaffirm its commitment on the implementation of the ceasefire agreements, how can we speak about tangible, substantial reduction of the tension on the Line of Contact?

Second. We speak about intensification of negotiations. What is its main principle or approach proposed by the Co-Chair countries, not by Armenia, but by the Co-Chair countries, which have an international mandate for mediation in this process in order to support the parties in reaching a settlement? They propose three fundamental principles, with regards to which we have repeatedly voiced our position, namely that we are committed to going for a settlement based on that principles.

As you know, these three principles are: territorial integrity, the equal rights and self-determination of peoples and the non-use of force and threat of force. And I asked my counterpart, whether he is ready today to reaffirm his commitment to these principles, because there was a time when Azerbaijan agreed to them.

At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Athens in 2009, Azerbaijan, in fact, agreed, and we, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan together with the Co-Chair countries, made a fivepartite statement, where these three principles were stated.

During this last meeting in Vienna, Azerbaijan again was unable to reconfirm that commitment. And what happened? The Co-Chair countries once again reaffirmed in their statement that it is indeed the approach of the international community that the settlement should be based on these three fundamental principles of the international law, to which Armenia, of course, have repeatedly agreed to and supported the settlement process based on these principles.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, we can see what Azerbaijan does after the meetings. But what does Baku do behind the closed doors? Agrees to something? Keeps silent? Argues? Can you please elaborate, as far as it is possible to make public?

Edward Nalbandian: Do you know, how many such meetings were convened? At the level of Presidents only we have had almost two dozen meetings, and about six dozen meetings were held at the level of Foreign Ministers. Probably, It is hard to present in a generalized way how Azerbaijan acts during each meeting.

But I would say, that during many meetings, Azerbaijan indeed was negotiating and discussing in a serious manner and that was why we were very close to reaching an agreement for many times. Let me remind you that it was during the Kazan meeting, but not only Kazan, prior to that it was during the Sochi meeting, and prior to that during the Astrakhan meeting, prior to that during the St. Petersburg meeting, and we can go on like this, but after each agreement Azerbaijan backtracked again.

This is why we have not been able to advance. But the negotiations have been quite serious. And when sometimes Azerbaijan says that we should finally hold serious talks, does it mean, that their President was not conducting serious negotiations during the passed twenty meetings?

Armenia never negotiates with such an approach. We have always been quite constructive, with the same constructive spirit we went to the Geneva Summit, and with the same constructive spirit we went to the last Vienna meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers.

Let me go a little bit further and say that upon the suggestion of the Co-Chairs one more meeting is envisaged, which will be held in the second half of the January. All the agreements with regards to the date and the venue of the meeting are already made. Again, we are constructive to really discuss, to see how we can bring positions closer in order to create conditions, which will make possible moving the process forward.

Question. Do we renounce the demand to establish an investigative mechanism?

Edward Nalbandian: It is an agreement reached in Vienna, but not only there. By the way, it was reaffirmed in Vienna, and afterwards in St. Petersburg, but the agreement has been reached many times before.

If you look at the two meetings of the Presidents in Sochi and the statements made there, you will see that the mechanism was already mentioned there. It is almost eight years that we discuss establishment of this mechanism, it is almost eight years that the Co-Chairs insist and state that this mechanism should be created, since this is not only a mechanism of investigation but it can also serve as a mechanism for reducing tension. And whoever refuses to create such a mechanism takes full responsibility for the tensions and ceasefire violations. And who is the one that refuses? It is Azerbaijan.

Look how many times the Co-Chairs have talked about this mechanism. Why would Armenia refuse? It is a commitment that has been reached even at the level of the Presidents in Vienna, and explicitly referred to in the statement of Foreign Ministers of the Co-Chair countries.

So, we are faithful to our commitments and the Co-Chairs have repeatedly stated that Armenia supports it and they expect Azerbaijan to approve it as well. Baku backtracks from it by all means, but it does not mean, that this question is not on the agenda, has not been discussed, will not be discussed or that we have forgotten about it.

It is a very important proposal that has been made not by Armenia, and let me emphasise this again, it has been continuously reiterated by the Co-Chair countries on the highest level. It was not made out of the blue, but with the intention and desire to, first of all, reduce the tension and create necessary conditions, in order to conduct the negotiation process in a more practical way.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, at the moment the Madrid principles are on the negotiation table. I would like to talk about a delicate issue. Many people know about these principles, many have heard of them, and when you talk about them, ordinary citizens think that it implies the return of Azerbaijani refugees and the return of territories. I have the following question: does the agreement to negotiating on these issues mean agreeing to these issues?

Edward Nalbandian: The President of the Republic, and of course, the Foreign Minister as well, have repeatedly commented on this. Here we cannot single out any one element: this is what Baku does. That is why it is surprising when some of our analysts do the same as the Azerbaijani side does.

It is a package proposal, and it has the substantial core proposal - the issue of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which should be determined on the basis of the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination. This self-determination should be realised through the free expression of will, which will have an international legally binding force, mandatory for Azerbaijan as well.

Until determination of this final status, Nagorno-Karabakh should also have an interim status. When we say an interim status, it means that there should be a final status too. The interim status means that Nagorno Karabakh will have everything that it has today, and in addition to that the international community through a relevant resolution should acknowledge and confirm that interim status until the determination of the final status.

This is the most essential and core point, the rest are derivatives, just as the President of the Republic of Armenia has stated repeatedly, and I have reiterated the same. There is no need to compartmentalize the whole process or to turn it upside down. In fact, you made a reference to the approaches of Baku, and it is surprising that sometimes there are people among us as well who fell into that trap.

Question. It is also the perception of our ordinary citizens, Mr. Nalbandian.

Edward Nalbandian: I do not think that ordinary citizens would have such perception if some ordinary analysts would not present it the way Azerbaijan does. They should present it as official Yerevan does.

And unlike the official Baku, we do what we say and we say what we do. Not like Azerbaijan, which comes, negotiates, then returns to Baku and pretends that we have agreed upon something different or have not agreed on anything at all. It happened many times. It is a proven fact and it is obvious.

Question. Just a month ago, the leaders of the CSTO member states adopted a statement on the Nagorno Karabakh issue and expressed their support for the Co-Chairs' approach. What does this statement mean?

Edward Nalbandian: This attests to the fact that not only the Co-Chairs and Armenia share the same views, but also various international institutions, as well as their members. You have referred to the statement of the last CSTO Summit, but it was not the last or the first time that the CSTO made such a statement. Such statements were made at the Summits of 2016, 2015 and 2014.

Certainly, every such statement on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been initiated and presented by Armenia. Of course, it was preceded by a quite long process of negotiations, as well as discussions, and as a result, the position of member states of the organization was reaffirmed. This is already a consolidated position of the CSTO, and not only the CSTO, but also of various other institutions, such as La Francophonie.

Question. I wonder if there are any member states in the CSTO, which, at least to our naked eye, consider Azerbaijan more friendly than Armenia?

Edward Nalbandian: We speak here about the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There is an approach of the international community concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement that has been presented by the Co-Chairs. The statement of the CSTO Summit supported the approaches of the Co-Chair countries based on the three well-known principles that I have already mentioned and which is also our position.

I would also like to say that this approach is shared not only by the CSTO, but also by the International Organization of La Francophonie, which has 84 member states, associate and observer countries. At the recent Summit in Antananarivo, yet another statement was adopted with this same language. And not only in Antananarivo, but two years prior to that at the Dakar Summit and two years before that at the Kinshasa Summit.

There are different countries in La Francophonie, which may support somewhat other wordings in other frameworks, but not in contradiction to what is adopted here, no matter how much Azerbaijan tries to present as if the international community supports its position. The opinion of the international community is expressed by the Co-Chair countries who have the mandate and the aforementioned institutions support those efforts of the Co-Chairs, just like the European Union has expressed its position many times in this regard. Recently, we have signed the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union. It clearly states the support to these efforts of the three Co-Chair states, based on these three principles. It is obvious.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, we can long go on enumerating, but the issue continues to remain unresolved. What expectations do you have for 2018?

Edward Nalbandian: The problem is not solved because Azerbaijan opposes not only to Armenia's approach, but also to the position of the international community. Will Azerbaijan change its position in 2018? Let us hope. But there is no alternative to the negotiation process, so we should continue the negotiations and try to go in that direction alongside with the international community and combine our efforts with those of the Co-Chair countries.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, let us move to our other neighboring country, Georgia. Few days ago, President Sargsyan has been there on an official visit and met with the top leadership of Georgia.

Before the visit, the Georgian press, as well as the Azerbaijani press published the statement of the Prime Minister of Georgia Kvirikashvili to the effect, that in force majeure situations (speaking about the closing of the upper Lars checkpoint), Armenia can use the transport corridors of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is clear that this will be a serious political decision. Do you consider the implementation of this statement realistic?

Edward Nalbandian: Let me first of all note that the visit of the President of the Republic of Armenia to Georgia was quite extensive and productive. This is indicated not only by the official statements made upon the results of negotiations, but it is the opinion of experts both in Georgia and in our country.

Relations with Georgia are of special importance for us, and we do our utmost to further deepen, strengthen and enhance mutually beneficial cooperation with Georgia. And this visit, the meetings that the President of Armenia has had in Tbilisi, once again reaffirmed that the Georgian leadership has the same approach.

As for alternative routes, of course, Armenia, as well as any other country, is very much interested in having alternative routes. Thi is especially true for Armenia, since some of our neighbors are attempting to put obstacles exactly with regards to the road communications.

This is a process, and I would prefer not to go ahead and make statements. Let us see how it will develop and based on the results we will judge. With regards to the statement of the Prime Minister of Georgia Mr. Kvirikashvili, we deeply respect the statements of the Prime Minister of Georgia.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, during all the Armenian-Georgian official meetings it is emphasized as a rule that there are no any delicate issue between the two countries that are not dealt with through a sincere dialogue. Do you think that the sincere Armenian-Georgian dialogue has turned into a sincere and, most importantly, substantive partnership, where its full potential is utilized?

Edward Nalbandian: Yes, I think that it is the case. Not only there is no issue over which we would not have a sincere conversation, but I remember that even years ago, while visiting Tbilisi, I said, and then it was repeated by my Georgian counterpart, that there are no problems between Armenia and Georgia. We are neighbouring countries. There are some issues, which we are trying to solve by joint efforts, and with determination and willingness we try to move forward, strengthen and deepen our cooperation.

Question. Let us move to Turkey. President Sargsyan has delivered quite a tough speech at the UN General Assembly, noting that we will enter the April of 2018 without Armenian-Turkish Protocols. Do you think this will put an end to this nearly decade-long dialogue aimed to restore relations between Armenia and Turkey?

Edward Nalbandian: I would not say that the President of the Republic made a tough statement at the UN General Assembly. It was a statement derived from the reality, because for the first time in its modern history Turkey faced the sovereign Armenia that firmly standing on its feet. It was Turkey, not our country that refused to implement the agreements reached with Armenia and the commitments that Turkey has undertaken in the presence of the international community.

Armenia remained on its height since it managed to push its own initiative till the end. While Turkey, which has regional or even wider ambitions, did not have the strength to rise above its complexes, and, entangled in those complexes, could not rise above its prejudices.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted to these statements of the Turkish side in quite a detailed manner. But I should say, that the Turkish side is trying to conceal its inability under these preconditions. This is the reality. If during the last eight years everyone, the international community was saying that the ball is in the Turkey’s court, today we can state that the ball is in the Turkey’s gate.

Question. We have achieved a moral victory, but, in fact, we failed to have tangible results, if we assess soberly the developments of the last ten years, since the signing of the protocols until April 2018.

Edward Nalbandian: Of course, we did, if not in the sense of normalisation of the Armenian-Turkish relations, however, one day it might be possible to continue based on what has been done, if the Turkish side can really advance without preconditions with the willingness to negotiate as equals, as it was the case during these negotiations. Let me remind you, that for the first time in the history Turkey did not impose anything on us, rather we had proposed to Turkey the basis of negotiations.

The Turkish side conducted these negotiations exactly on the basis of our proposals and finally came and signed those protocols in the presence of Foreign Ministers of many countries, including Russia, the United States, France, Switzerland, representatives of the European Union, Council of Europe, and hundreds of media representatives, but the next day it started to backtrack.

When I say that Armenia remained on its height, I mean that this has also increased confidence towards us and strengthened our reputation in the international arena. And what did Turkey get? If Turkey can not respect the reached agreement, the agreements signed by it, then what confidence can such a country enjoy, and not only in terms of Armenian-Turkish relations?

It seems that Turkey is unable to listen and understand what the international community says. And often finds itself in a situation of a monologue and that monologue brings about nervousness, resulting in such statements.

Question. Mr. Nalbandian, I remember when the protocols were signed, what a heated criticism was heaped on the Armenian authorities. After the April war there were even assessments to the effect that if our diplomacy was as strong as our soldier on the border, we might have had a totally different picture. What works in diplomacy? Quiet actions or shouting about the work done. Do you often experience the feeling of being misunderstood?

Edward Nalbandian: The diplomacy, of course, should yield results. The important thing here is not delivering speeches, but doing the job. But the diplomacy should be conducted in such a way that the public opinion comprehends what is done. If there is no understanding from the public opinion, it will not lead to anything good. Because diplomatic steps of any country, if they do not enjoy the support from the public opinion, are difficult to fulfill. But with regards to our steps towards the normalisation of the Armenian-Turkish relations, I can say even today that it was a wise initiative by the President of the Republic of Armenia. Today we have proved that Armenia has remained on its height, on the same side with the international community, while Turkey is on the other side with the ball in its own gate.

Question. What prospects do you see with regards to the development of the Armenia-Iran relations?

Edward Nalbandian: Armenia-Iran relations have a rather comprehensive agenda. We are determined, both in Armenia and in Iran, to mutually exert all the possible efforts in order to develop and deepen these relations, and one more thing that I could add is that the relations with Iran are, in some sense, even exemplary in terms of developing relations between the Christian and Islamic states. Indeed, recently there have been many initiatives in different directions and we are determined to pursue these steps. 

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