James Warlick: Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia Do Not Want War
During his recent visit to Azerbaijan U.S. Minsk Group Co-chair Ambassador James Warlick gave an exclusive interview to Turan News Agency.
Turan. Ambassador, first of all thank for agreeing to give the interview. I know how busy schedule you have, hope this time we will have extensive interview…
Ambassador Warlick. We can talk about whatever you want to talk about. That’s fine with me.
Turan. Sir, this time your visit to the region coincides with opening of the Baku European Games. So before we will start talking about the NK conflict and connected with it wider issues, I wonder was your visit coincided with the games or not?
Ambassador Warlick. Thank you for doing the interview. I appreciate it.
I feel like I’ve been doing formal interviews sitting in a studio and talking to a camera and so I want to do some less formal things.
I’m here with the co-chairs and also Ambassador Kasprshik the personal representative of the Chairman in Office.
I’m coming from Yerevan. I was there last week and had the opportunity to meet with President Sargsyan, Foreign Minister Nalbandian and others. While I was in Yerevan I met with parliamentarians, which was very interesting for me. The Defense Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee. It gave me a chance to hear some different views.
I also had a chance to meet with civil society representatives, something I hadn’t done before. And there were young people with noconnection to the government, and it was good for me just to hear from them about Nagorno-Karabakh and how they see the conflict being resolved and the problems in the relationship. It was very educational for me. And actually, I wish I had had you or some other people from Azerbaijan with me because some of the conversations were quite telling with the young people. There were different perspectives than I’d hear in a meeting with the Foreign Minister.
Then I traveled here to meet up with the co-chairs. I had the opportunity to sit with them and see the opening of the European Games. That was a very impressive event and I was glad to be there for it. I was pleased that the Armenian athletes participated.
Yesterday I went out with the co-chairs to see a refugee settlement. That also was interesting for me. Today I saw the Foreign Minister together with the co-chairs.
So now we’re talking about next steps. What comes next in the process.
Turan. You mean the Presidents’ possible meeting?
Ambassador Warlick. Yes. The presidents have already said that they want to meet with each other. They agreed to an intensified dialogue, and now we need to try to make that happen.
So as I’ve said before, we want the co-chairs to try to frame the issues to help the presidents have a productive discussion when they meet.
Turan. Sometimes, it seems to me that in order to understand both sides of the conflict the diplomats should be psychologists. Would you please tell if you could understand Azerbaijan and Armenia?
Ambassador Warlick. Well, I like to think that I’m an experienced negotiator and have worked on different kinds of negotiations in the past. Now I’m not going to tell you that I’m an expert on Armenia and Azerbaijan and understand the countries, either of the countries, the way that you and others who live here do. But I think I can be, together with the co-chairs, an effective mediator. I think it doesn’t take a deep understanding of every aspect of Armenia and Azerbaijani society to bring together the kinds of approaches, the kinds of packages where each side sees gains. One of the things that I’ve learned in my negotiations is that there cannot be a winner and a loser. There can only be two winners. And I do believe that Nagorno-Karabakh is a conflict where we can find an outcome that serves the best interests of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Turan. Ambassador, about a year ago you made a presentation [inaudible] in DC and at the beginning of your remarks you pointed out that although you were one of the Minsk Group co-chairs, your message was a statement of official U.S. government policy that guided America’s engagement as it helped the parties find peace. What was both sides reaction to your remarks? ?
Ambassador Warlick. Well, I think the initial reaction from both sides was, perhaps, surprise that an American diplomat speaking for the U.S. government and speaking for U.S. policy would be so frank and as public. And I think in both Armenia and Azerbaijan for some people it was the first time that they heard these ideas put together in the way that they were.
In Armenia it stimulated a very healthy discussion. Not everybody agreed with what I said, and that’s all right. It’s important to have people talking about these issues. These are issues that will deeply affect the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan and they deserve to understand them and to hear differing points of view.
It’s also important to understand what the parameters of that comprehensive settlement are. What are the elements? What are the principles? And I tried to lay those out in a way that I hope people in Azerbaijan and Armenia appreciated.
Turan. Could you reveal a little secret? What do you think which part of your plan caused the sides most negative reaction?
Ambassador Warlick. I don’t think there are any secrets. I laid out the principles and elements for what I believe would be a settlement. But I didn’t invent these ideas. These were ideas that have already been on the table, that are in the public domain. Regarding the six elements,it’s easy for one side or the other to choose from those elements what they like. And one of my messages was you can’t do that. This is a comprehensive package that needs to be seen and weighed in its entirety. You can’t simply choose one principle or one element that serves your interests and say it has to be the basis for a settlement. And in my negotiations, in my discussions with the presidents of both countries and foreign ministers, I think they understand that. They know that this has to be a comprehensive settlement, that they can’t simply choose the principle that they like or the elements that are in their national interests and have that be a settlement. Otherwise there won’t be a settlement. So that’s one of the things we’re talking about.
Turan. Could we say that the negotiations deadlocked?
Ambassador Warlick. But it’s not a deadlock. The presidents met three times last year and in each of those meetings I think they made progress in advancing the issues. Did they reach full agreement? No, they didn’t. Do they see eye to eye today on everything? No. That’s why it’s important for us to continue remediations and have the presidents meet. Each time they do meet they are able to talk substantively about the issues, and each time we see that while not resolving the issues, they are focusing the issues on what needs to be decided, and I hope we can do that in the next meeting.
Turan. Sir, there exists such an opinion that this is not simply Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, rather than geopolitical problem, related to major powers’ interests’ clashes in this region? How would you characterize it?
Ambassador Warlick. Well, we all live in an interconnected world and I’m not going to say that there aren’t interests outside of the region, but I will tell you that I believe if there is political will by the two presidents, with the support of the people in both countries, this issue can be resolved. The political will begins in each of the capitols. And I believe that if there is that will, we can come to a settlement.
Turan. Sir, Azerbaijani diplomats often tell off the record that if not Russia, this conflict could be solved a long time ago. How would you characterize it?
Ambassador Warlick. Ideally we would have solved this 20 years ago. And I think the last 20 years of negotiations have been frustrating for both sides, and I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to resolve. But there are other conflicts in the world that have also taken years to resolve. We shouldn’t look at this as a race against the clock in some way. We should work systematically, consistently to find the kind of outcome that’s going to benefit both countries. And I believe that a negotiated settlement is possible. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I thought this task was hopeless. I came into the job at the request of Secretary Kerry because he believes, and we all believe, that there is an opportunity to settle this. And the benefits of a settlement are huge for the region, for both countries.
The people of Armenia and Azerbaijan deserve peace and all the benefits that come with it. And I hope the leaders of both countries will hear the voices of the people, of the mothers, of the grandmothers, that want peace and want the kind of prosperity and other benefits that would come with a negotiated settlement.
Turan. Ambassador, do you think that during the existence of the confrontation between the United States and Russia, related to the last developments in Europe, Crimea and Ukraine it is possible that these two big powers can really work earnestly to solve the NK conflict? Do you feel that the Russia keeps earnest position towards resolution of the conflict?
Ambassador Warlick. It’s not only possible for us to work together, we are working together, despite our differences on other issues, and we do have them. I’m not going to minimize the strains in the relationship but Nagorno-Karabakh is not one of them. I work effectively with my Russian colleague. We see eye to eye. On the role that the co-chairs play, we are fully in agreement, and I expect that to continue.
I believe we’re a powerful force when the U.S., Russia, and France can be united and can serve as mediators with a common vision.
Turan. You mentioned aboutthe sides great benefits if the problem is resolved. How would you carachterize the role of public diplomacy in the resolution of the conflict?
Ambassador Warlick. Right. I’m sure you remember a time in the past when Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived together. They lived together, they worked together, and their families knew each other. I’m not saying it was perfect, but I’m saying there was such a time.
That time no longer exists. There is a generation of young people in Armenia and Azerbaijan that don’t know each other, that have never had the opportunity to meet an Armenian or an Azerbaijani. I think that’s really unfortunate.
I recently met with young journalists in Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and as I’ve said to both sides, I wish they could meet each other and talk because I’m really impressed. They’re talented young professionals that represent your countries well, but they’re also so smart, so knowledgeable on issues. If they could find the opportunity to talk to each other, everyone would benefit.
More broadly, I think these people to people programs are helpful in laying a basis of understanding that we’ll need to see if there’s peace. Right now, and I don’t need to tell you this, there is a great deal of mistrust between people in both countries. And you have these conversations in both capitols where these misunderstandings come out. I think we need to work on that. People to people programs are one way to do that.
They’re not going to change attitudes overnight, but it’s something that you do over a long period of time and we need to work on that. And with the settlement, I really do hope to see people, Armenians and Azerbaijanis living together again, side by side.
Turan. I want to follow up this question. I am sure you are aware of President Aliyev negative attitude towards public diplomacy. Azerbaijani rights activists who met and discussed the conflict resolution issues with their Armenian colleagues are accused of betrayal their motherland. Have you had a chance to discuss these issues with President Aliyev?
Ambassador Warlick. We are, as co-chairs, active in supporting people to people programs and confidence building measures. We have made recommendations to the sides, steps that could be undertaken. We continue to do that. We do see some steps forward. We were very pleased that President Aliyev invited Armenian athletes to participate in the European Games, and we were also very pleased that the Armenians accepted that. And I’m glad that there are Armenian athletes in Baku today competing in the Games.
This doesn’t solve everything, but I’d like to see more contact like that. We all would.
I also hope that when there is another opportunity, whatever it might be, whether it’s sports or something else in Yerevan where Azerbaijanis that participate. I think it would be good. Look atBaku,this is a beautiful city that, right now especially for the Games, is a showcase. Wouldn’t you like for Armenians to see this for themselves, to walk along the waterfront, to see what the city has become since Soviet times? And you should be rightly proud of that.
At the same time I hope that Azerbaijanis could travel to Yerevan. It is a country that is rich in history and tradition, also with a very proud people. It would be good for Azerbaijanis to see that for themselves, and to have conversations and to explore whatever they want to.
I think that’s a healthy step. So I would encourage both presidents to continue this kind of exchange and look for more opportunities.
Turan. When do you think the Presidents’ are going to meet the next time?
Ambassador Warlick. Well, it will be up to them to decide. Both presidents have been occupied with events. Of course there were commemorations in Armenia and now the European Games. Once we’re past these events, I think there will be an opportunity for the presidents to meet and we’d like that to happen this year. As soon as the presidents are ready. But you knowwe want to make sure that the discussion is a positive one. We also don’t want to rush them into a meeting that has not been adequately prepared. We do want to be able to frame issues, to set up a discussion that focuses on issues where we believe the presidents can make progress.
One of the reasons that we try to meet regularly with the foreign ministers is for precisely that reason; to identify the kinds of issues that the president should talk about.
Turan. We witness a new problem – worsening of relations between Baku and Washington. You probably know of Baku’s accusations Washington of preparation of color revolution in Azerbaijan. Do you think that Azerbaijan and the U.S. may cooperate in such environment, if yes, would it be effective?
Ambassador Warlick. We want to build a strong, strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. No one should think any differently.
I leave it to Ambassador Cekuta to speak to the bilateral issues, but let me assure you that the desire in Washington is that the relationship be a strong one, that we work together as partners. And there are so many issues where we are working together and want to continue that.
I think there’s a sincere desire to work through these areas and to see the kind of partnership that I believe both sides want.
And this reflects back onto Nagorno-Karabakh. I want to see a strong relationship as a co-chair so that our mediation as a member of the Minsk Group can be as effective as possible.
So I think in all of our interests to work on building a partnership that is as strong as possible. I’m very sincere about that. And I don’t want to speak of the bilateral relationship because you’re sitting just hundreds of feet from the American Ambassador and he’s the one that needs to talk to you about it. But I can assure you, there’s no mixed message from Washington. This is a valuable partnership, one that we take very seriously.
And of course among friends there are going to be disagreements, but we want to see past that and build the kind of relationship that will last into the future where we can continue to work on the most important issues together.
Turan. Ambassador what would be your prognosis in case of war?
Ambassador Warlick. Well, first of all I think the worst outcome would be the outbreak of a wider conflict. That’s in no one’s interest. We’re worried about violence along the line of contact not only because of the human lives and the economic cost, but also it does risk greater escalation and it damages our ability to serve as mediators.
When tensions are high and the trust between Baku and Yerevan is low, it’s very difficult for us to make progress. So for many reasons we want to see this tension maintained at a low level.
So we will continue to urge respect for the ceasefire, and whenever we see outbreaks of renewed violence, wherever they come from, the co-chairs and the United States will be active in calling them out and to work for a peaceful resolution rather than the kind of violence that is so damaging.
Turan. Would you please compare the NK conflict resolution now and five-ten years ago and let us know when we were close to the conflict resolution o now or in the past.
Ambassador Warlick. Well, I believe, there were opportunities to resolve the conflict peacefully through negotiations several times in the past, and the sides came close. And I don’t want to minimize any of those. I would only say that it was unfortunate that we didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities in the past.
We have another opportunity now, and that’s what we need to focus on. And I know how frustrating it is on both sides. There’s a high degree of frustration that the conflict continues, and I know that there are some that not only are frustrated but they believe that the negotiations are getting nowhere. But believe me, they’re not. We are making progress. There needs to be political will. We need to work at it. We need to continue negotiations. And I’m not minimizing the difficulties, but peace is possible. We can find a way to a negotiated settlement, and that’s what we have to work for.
What is the alternative? I don’t believe the people of either country want to go to war and I’ve now met with President Aliyev and President Sargsyan enough times to know that they don’t want war. That they want to find a negotiated settlement and that’s why we need to continue to work with them.
Turan. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Warlick. Thank you.
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