YEREVAN — No question related to the Karabakh conflict settlement can be resolved without the consent of the people of Artsakh, Armenian foreign minister Edward Nalbandian said in an interview with “Aravot” daily in comments on rumors that during his latest visit to Yerevan Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov tried to persuade Armenia to hand several regions surrounding the administrative borders of Nagorno-Karabakh back to Azerbaijan.

“In general, I would advise when commenting on such sensitive issues, refer to the official sources,’ he added.

According to the minister, the presidents of the OSCO Minsk Group countries made five statements on Karabakh conflict settlement.

“A simple comparison shows that the media allegations in Armenia differ from the approaches of the leaders of the co-chairing countries towards the resolution of the conflict. What is more trustworthy – the statements published on behalf of the presidents of the co-chairing countries or rumors that have found a place in press? I think there can not be two opinions on this matter,” said the minister.

Full text of interview:
Question: Mr. Minister, following the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister to Yerevan, the press continues to allege that it was related to some concessions on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Particularly, the Russian “Kommersant”, referring to its source close to the negotiations, informed that it was the main issues on the agenda of the visit. Could you, please, comment, whether the NK settlement was discussed during Lavrov’s visit and if so, in what context?

Edward Nalbandian: I prefer to avoid commenting news based on rumours that have nothing to do with reality. Those who spread such information remind me a famous proverb – they heard the bells, but they do not know where the sound comes from.

During the press conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, we presented all the topics and areas on our agenda of discussions, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process. As you know, Russia is one of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and we highly appreciate the efforts of Russia together with other Co-Chairs aimed at an exclusively peaceful settlement of the conflict. We annually hold over dozens of meetings together with Sergey Lavrov, both within bilateral and multilateral frameworks, and this is natural, taking into account the allied strategic relations between our two countries. After each of those meetings the media may report that the issues related to the NK conflict resolution have been discussed, and I should say that it would not be far from the truth. Of course, with some exceptions, the issue is permanently on the agenda of our discussions. It is quite understandable.

It is different when the media attempts to ascribe fabricated elements to the talks. When the media refers to the so called source close to the negotiations I would not take it as granted. It is hard to imagine what source they could make a reference to, taking into consideration that the negotiations are held on a high level and within a restricted format.

In general, I would advise to rely on official information while making comments on such sensitive issues. The Presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries made 5 statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process. They presented the elements and principles which form the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement as an integrated whole, I want to emphasise – as an integrated whole. Simple comparison reveals that what was published in the media is not in line with the conflict settlement approaches of the Heads of Co-Chair countries. Now, I leave it to your discretion what is more credible – the statements made on behalf of the Presidents of the Co-Chair countries, or rumours published in the media? I think the answer is obvious.

I would also like to add that anything related to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, cannot be settled without the consent of the people of Artsakh.

Question: Mr. Minister, discussions on the adoption of the draft report on Nagorno-Karabakh by the British parliamentarian Walter in the Political Affairs Committee of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) are still ongoing in Armenia. The report is included in the agenda of the plenary session. What will be the real impact of the adoption of this report?

Edward Nalbandian: I have commented on this matter on numerous occasions. Armenia’s stance is absolutely in line with the position of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, that other international institutions, organizations should not undertake any steps that can undermine the peaceful settlement of the process, and especially that can lead to the escalation of the situation in the region.

Azerbaijan attempts to shift the talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement to other formats. However, the only format, which enjoys the mandate of the international community, is the format of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship.

The figure of the rapporteur himself is problematic from the point of view of impartiality. For years, he was a member of the so called Friends of Azerbaijan in the British Parliament According to the British media this group was largely financed by Baku. And this may be the very reason why R. Walter rushed to present the fabricated rapport, two days before the completion of his mission in the capacity of the PACE member. As to the motives of his interest, I will leave that to your judgment.

I would also like to recall the recent statement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on this issue, which stresses, that the attempts to change the format or create parallel mechanisms can disrupt the negotiation process and impede progress towards a settlement. The PACE members should take this warning seriously.

The same opinion was expressed by the Russian Foreign Minister during his recent visit to Yerevan, who said that the Co-Chairs strongly oppose attempts to shift this issue to other international platforms not dealing with the conflict resolution instead of a continuous, practical and patient dialogue.

Question: Minister Nalbandian, after the notorious report of R. Walter another report has been drafted within the same institution – in PACE. It concerns the Sarsang Reservoir. The mere title of the report suggests that it will have an anti-Armenian inclination. It is entitled “The bordering regions of Azerbaijani are intentionally deprived of Water”. How would you comment that?

Edward Nalbandian: Back in 2013, the delegation of Azerbaijan to PACE presented a draft resolution, complaining that Azerbaijanis are being deprived of the opportunity to use the Sarsang Reservoir. At that time, the Chairman of PACE rejected to proceed with that resolution. Afterwards, for whatever reasons, the PACE decided to appoint a rapporteur to examine the issue.

Indeed, not a single document on Nagorno-Karabakh can be considered as unbiased and fair, if the rapporteur has not visited the site to get acquainted with the situation on the ground.

A question rises as to how the rapporteur can form an opinion on a reservoir, which she has not even seen. The authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh have constantly expressed their readiness to jointly use the waters of Sarsang Reservoir with Azerbaijan. During his visit to Artsakh the PACE rapporteur could also have an opportunity to discuss with the authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh the technical details of implementation of the above-mentioned proposal.

In this regard it is noteworthy that the rapporteur has already visited Azerbaijan twice. Meanwhile the authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh only three-four days ago received a letter from the PACE Secretariat with the proposal to receive the rapporteur.

As for Armenia, the Head of the Armenian delegation to PACE in her letter to the PACE Secretariat dated August 3, has already expressed her readiness to receive the PACE rapporteur in Armenia.

This resolution should be submitted to the PACE Committee on Social Affairs. Therefore, it has been decided from the outset that the report should not be of a political but of a technical nature. The Armenian side repeatedly urged the rapporteur, who is a member of parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to remain faithful to this logic and not to politicize the issue. However, so far the hastily prepared report of the rapporteur includes distortions, which contradict the wording adopted by the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. This report brings to mind that of Walter.

As the lobbying efforts of Azerbaijan face a full fiasco in other European structures, Baku with its initiatives here tries to clutch at straws.

Question: Minister Nalbandian, after the recent terroristic attacks, the President of Azerbaijan used that context to voice his recurring accusations against Armenia…

Edward Nalbandian: In order to promote his narrow political interests the leader of Azerbaijan does not even refrain from using the tragedy of those people who fell victim to terrorism.

These hopeless efforts are also aimed at covering the long-lasting close relationship of Azerbaijan with notorious terrorist organizations, and the facts that the savage ideology of Daesh and other terrorist organizations today enjoy a wide support in Azerbaijan, hundreds of citizens of which are joining the ranks of those organizations. And this is what seriously concerns the international community, not the fabricated claims of the Azerbaijani President.

Question: Minister Nalbandian, the meeting of the U.S.-Armenia task force is taking place in Yerevan today, and two days ago the first meeting of the Armenia-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment was held. How this activation of the relations between Armenian and the United States could be explained?

Edward Nalbandian: Indeed, this week was quite active within the context of the Armenian-American friendly partnership. However, it should be mentioned, that this dynamism pertains not only to this week, but to our relations in general, which today are on a quite high level. In this regard the year of 2015 has been very favorable, I would even say, in some way even exceptional, taking into consideration all the achievements registered throughout this year.

First, the arrangements reached with Secretary Kerry back in 2013 have been implemented – since January the new facilitated visa regime has been put into force, and in May the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement was signed in the presence of the President of Armenia.

It is according to one of the provisions of that agreement, that the first meeting of the Armenia-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment, which you mentioned, was held in Yerevan. It enhances the Armenian-American economic cooperation onto a qualitatively new level. The meetings within the framework of the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force and Armenia-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment are the logical conclusions of the year.

Officials representing different US agencies attended the meetings, including the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary, representatives of the Office of the Trade Representative and USAID. Issues of high importance for the economic development of Armenia were on the agenda of the meetings.

Question: Minister Nalbandian, the month of October was marked by a new launch in Armenian-EU relations. Even though you have already made a statement on the issue, however, could you provide more details what kind of timeframe is being discussed?

Edward Nalbandian: Armenia and the European Union have always stated about their readiness to continue to develop and enhance comprehensive cooperation between the parties in all fields of mutual interest.

During the summits in Vilnius and Riga the determination to develop a mutually beneficial cooperation between Armenia and the European Union was reiterated. On October 13, the European Council issued a mandate to the European Commission to start negotiations over forming the new legal basis of relations with Armenia.

With regard to the timeframe, there is a mutual expectation that the negotiations will start by the end of this year. I suppose, that based on our experience of negotiations with the European Union we have good preconditions to advance these negotiations as fast as possible.

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