#NKPeace: BBC Azeri Interview with U.S. OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Ambassador James B. Warlick

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As tensions escalate on the Line of Contact (LoC) separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces still locked in deadlock over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, the BBC’s Azerbaijan Service last month published my interview with the U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassador James B. Warlick. Below is the original English:

The appointment of Ambassador James B. Warlick as U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group was announced on 5 August 2013 by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Prior to taking up the position in September 2013 he served as Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, among other positions.


Onnik James Krikorian for BBC Azeri: Twenty-one years have passed since the 1994 ceasefire agreement was signed and peace remains as elusive as ever. Indeed, the situation often seems worse than at any time since. Ceasefire violations are now so commonplace that it’s difficult to consider there being one at all let alone that Nagorno Karabakh is a ‘frozen conflict.’

Ambassador Warlick: Nagorno-Karabakh is not a “frozen conflict.” Tensions are high along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border. We are very concerned by ceasefire violations and reports of heavier weapons being used by the sides, including mortars. However, I believe the sides share the Co-Chairs’ goal of reaching a peaceful, negotiated settlement. We continue to meet with leaders in the region to work through elements of a comprehensive agreement. Reducing tensions and strictly respecting the ceasefire will be at the top of our agenda when we meet with the Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly next week. 

BBC Azeri: In the past year especially there have been a number of violations that can be considered new escalations. Most recently, for example, you tweeted about the use of mortars by both sides. Is there any glimmer of hope at all?
Ambassador Warlick: The use of mortars and other heavy weapons is unacceptable. We are especially concerned about civilian casualties and have urged the sides to take all possible steps to avoid such violence. We continue to discuss confidence-building measures that could help stabilize the situation on the ground and create a more constructive atmosphere for negotiations. 

BBC Azeri: While many are aware of the work of the OSCE Minsk Group, that of the OSCE Monitoring Mission is less well known. Although not directly related to the work of the co-chairs, could you explain a little about its purpose and how important it is?
Ambassador Warlick: The OSCE Monitoring Mission, led by Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, plays a vital role in collecting regular information about the situation along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Without his team’s efforts, the international community would not be informed about the conditions in conflict-affected areas. Ambassador Kasprzyk’s team maintains strong relationships with the sides’ military commanders and they can leverage these relationships to address tensions when the security situation becomes dangerous. 


BBC Azeri: In May 2014, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 ceasefire agreement, you outlined the six main points that any lasting, final peace deal will have to include, including the return of territories, the right to return of IDPs, and agreement on status. Yet, those Basic Principles for resolution of the conflict appear not too dissimilar to the terms of the 1994 ceasefire as outlined in the Bishkek Protocol. What’s obstructing their formalisation?

Ambassador Warlick: The sides recognize the elements and principles I outlined in my Carnegie speech as the essential foundation of a settlement. What is missing is the political will in Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach an agreement. I have said on numerous occasions that the Presidents should stop using the rhetoric of war and start preparing their publics for peace. The Co-Chairs continue to work with the sides on the details of a deal, but it is ultimately the Presidents who must find the political will to conclude an agreement.

BBC Azeri: Until the end of the 1990s many Armenians and Azerbaijanis could remember the time when both lived side by side together in peace, just as they still do in third countries such as Georgia. How important is Track II diplomacy?
Ambassador Warlick: Track II diplomacy is essential for building trust between the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan. As we have seen in peace processes throughout the world, political negotiations need to be complemented by grassroots efforts to improve relationships between the people who have suffered from war and would benefit from peace. Although tensions are high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Co-Chairs support efforts to bring people from both countries together, including the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh.

BBC Azeri: You recently posted a photograph of the Sarsang Reservoir in Nagorno Karabakh on Instagram and noted the opportunity for all sides to cooperate on the issue of water. This has recently just happened on the Georgia-South Ossetia Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), but no such similar initiatives exist for this conflict zone.
Ambassador Warlick: I have repeatedly stressed that the sides should come together with the Co-Chairs to discuss issues that are in the interests of all people affected by the conflict. Water is one of the most obvious initiatives. I hope the sides see value in coming to the table and cooperating on the sharing of water resources. The Co-Chairs remain ready to assist them.

BBC Azeri: One criticism of the OSCE Minsk Group has been that negotiations are often shrouded in secrecy. In a sense, and while you can only do so within obvious diplomatic constraints, your use of social media has changed that. What challenges and opportunities does social media offer you as a diplomat how do you consider the results?
Ambassador Warlick: Social media is an important tool for engaging people in Armenia and Azerbaijan on our negotiations. If they are better informed about our efforts and the benefits peace would bring, they may feel more empowered to demand of their leaders to reach a settlement. I welcome the chance to have a conversation with the public and social media is an accessible way to have that exchange.

Ambassador James B. Warlick can be followed on Twitter and Instagram. The published piece in Azerbaijani is available here. BBC Azeri can also be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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