The role of the United States in resolving territorial disputes, its mediation role in negotiation processes

Талыбова Лала – студент Академии государственного управления при президенте Азербайджанской Республики.

Аннотация: На границе Черного и Каспийского морей три страны Южного Кавказа, Азербайджан, Грузия и Армения, исторически являющиеся важным экономическим и транспортным коридором, страдают от политической напряженности друг с другом и со своими региональными соседями из-за неразрешенных конфликтов в трех странах. территории - Нагорный Карабах, Абхазия и Южная Осетия. Политика США на Кавказе включает роль посредника в разрешении этих конфликтов.

Нагорно-Карабахский конфликт между Азербайджаном и Арменией является одним из самых кровавых событий, произошедших в период распада Советского Союза. Нерешенный конфликт на протяжении многих лет ведет к нестабильности в регионе Южного Кавказа. Каждый год десятки солдат погибают на линии соприкосновения во время перестрелки.

Нагорно-Карабахский регион является исторически азербайджанской территорией, где политика переселения царской России изменила демографическую структуру, переселяя сюда сотни тысяч армян в разные годы. Позже они начали претендовать на эти земли, утверждая, что они изначально являлись исконно армянскими.

Ключевые слова: Конфликт, Азербайджан, Нагорный Карабах, США, переговоры, резолюции.

Abstract: Bordering the Black and Caspian Seas, the three countries of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, historically being an important economic and transport corridor, suffer from political tensions with each other and with their regional neighbors due to unresolved conflicts in three territories - Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The policy of the United States in the Caucasus includes the role of a mediator in resolving these conflicts.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is one of the bloodiest events that occurred during the period of collapse of the Soviet Union. The unresolved conflict over the years leads to instability in the South Caucasus region. Every year, dozens of soldiers are killed on the line of contact during skirmishing.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is historically Azerbaijani territory, where the resettlement policy of Tsarist Russia changed the demographic structure, resettling here hundreds of thousands of Armenians in different years. They later began to lay claim to these lands, claiming them to be originally Armenian.

Keywords: Conflict, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, United States, negotiations, resolutions.

After the restoration of state independence in 1991, Azerbaijan had to deal with the violation of its territorial integrity.

The conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the Nagorno-Karabakh have led to the death of thousands, more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons. All attempts to negotiate a cease-fire failed.

Inconsistencies in the U.S. approach to the NIS, and the tepid response of the Bush Administration to the independence of the Caucasus and Central Asian states set the tone for the Clinton Administration. Although the new U.S. government recognized the importance of formulating a coherent policy toward all the states of the former USSR and underscored this with the appointment of Clinton confidant Strobe Talbott to the position of Ambassador-at-Large to the NIS in March 1993, the Caucasus and Central Asia were still viewed as second or third tier states. [6, p.34].

Russia was considered as the dominant state in this region and the United States preferred not to intervene in internal conflicts happening in the region. However, the United States was actively involved as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. During this period, senior US officials also participated in conflict resolution negotiations. The position of the United States was represented in different years by the US Secretary of State James Baker, US Ambassador to the CSCE, John Maresca.

It was Secretary Baker who intervened with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers to reach an agreement on how Karabakh region was to be represented in the OSCE-sponsored negotiations. The rules, to which all parties agreed and which the OSCE Minsk Group adheres to even today, were simple: in NK conflict, there are two “principal parties” – the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan, and two “interested parties” — the Armenian community of NK and Azerbaijani community of NK. That is the Azerbaijani community of Karabakh was a legally recognized “interested party” to the conflict and thus attends the meetings and signed the May 1994 cease-fire agreement. Since then, these simple and effective rules became known as the “Baker Rules”. [4]

Further atrocities of Armenians hindered the negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict. The assault on the night of February 25-26, 1992 of the city of Khojaly, which has been under siege for a long time, was one of the heinous and the most brutal crimes of the end of the 20th century, committed by Armenians not only against the Azerbaijani people, but also against all humanity. With the support of the 366th motorized rifle regiment of the Russian army located in Nagorno-Karabakh, the city of Khojaly was razed to the ground in one night.

As a result of the Khojaly genocide committed by Armenians against the Azerbaijani people, 613 Khojaly people were killed, 1,275 civilians were captured. The fate of 150 of them is not known until now.

As a result of the tragedy, 487 civilians were injured to varying degrees. 106 people of the dead were women, and 83 - kids. 76 disabled were under age boys and girls. [10].

After the Armenian army and the Armenian bandit formations completely cleared the Azerbaijani villages of Nagorno-Karabakh from the Azerbaijanis, on May 8, 1992 they captured Shusha town, on May 18, 1992 - Lachin, on April 2, 1993 - Kelbajar, on June 23 - Aghdam, on August 23 - Fuzuli, on August 24 - Jabrail, on August 31 – Gubatly and on October 30 – Zangelan towns.

Thus, the Armenians, occupying up to 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan, turned 1 million Azerbaijanis into refugees and internally displaced persons in their homeland.

This event contributed to the greater involvement of the UN and CSCE in the conflict.

Resolutions of the United Nations Security council as of July 29, 1993 and 874 (1993) of October 14, 1993, also called for ensuring that the forces involved did not have the means to continue their military campaign. Measures taken in these resolutions were very important for Armenia and favored Azerbaijan.

They did not say anything about the right to self-determination, which was usually used to justify the position of Armenia. This attitude probably reflected the Clinton administration’s early orientation towards protecting the sovereignty of the new post-Soviet states and the already growing US recognition of the value of supporting Azerbaijan, not least because of its energy resources.

John J. Maresca, US Representative on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, presented his proposal for resolution of the conflict at the United States Institute of Peace in July 1994. He publicly urged the administration to appoint a special envoy in this matter. This proposal was widespread as a special USIP report and was the subject of a special hearing by the CSCE Commission of the US Congress.

This proposal was not supported by the US administration and, according to Ambassador John J. Maresca, “the reason why this opportunity was lost until now was the administration’s unwillingness to take the leading position and give authority on this issue to Russia considering the Caucasus as its sphere of influence.

The United States should be actively involved in establishing good relations between the NKR and Armenia, as well as between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan; The United States must appoint a special representative in the region to accelerate the signing of bilateral treaties to settle the conflict. [9].

Furthermore, the United States should help attracting the financial capital of donors for economic recovery in the region. In this regard, the section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which prohibits the United States from helping Azerbaijan at the state level, should be abolished. But all these attempts have not been successful, due to the unwillingness to spoil relations with Russia and interfere in the Russian sphere of interests and influence.

Bilateral negotiations between President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev and US Vice President Gore on September 6, 1994 in Cairo and President Bill Clinton in New York had a major influence on the revision of the US position on the Karabakh conflict. He welcomed the establishment of a cease-fire regime in the zone of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the President of the United States at this meeting for the first time since the day the Nagorno-Karabakh problem emerged, said that he supports the position of not official Yerevan, but Azerbaijan, and said that Azerbaijan is an important country for America.

And if prior to this meeting, when the official Washington addressed the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, only a group of internal Armenian forces was mentioned, now Armenia has become one of the parties to the conflict. The most interesting thing is that for the first time in these documents it was not about the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, but about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, about the true interests of the United States and the “American interests” presented by the Armenian lobby and it was requested to make fair decisions. This meant the victory of Azerbaijani diplomacy, which managed to discover the truth to the world community and helped the Americans to separate their own interests from those of the Armenians.

The final declaration of the Budapest summit of 1994, entitled “Towards genuine cooperation in a new era”, reflected the decision related to the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. These decisions indicated the appointment of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, carrying out activities for the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and creation of a CSCE peacekeeping force in the event of a peace agreement to ensure peace.

At the summit on the initiative of the US Permanent Representative to the UN, M. Albright, and the main coordinator for the newly formed independent states of the US State Department, J. Collins, a meeting was held between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. [2, p.369 -370]

Moreover, with the direct assistance of American representatives at the summit, for the first time since the CSCE’s activities, since the establishment of the Minsk Group dealing with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem in 1992, a resolution was adopted that fully satisfies Azerbaijan.

According to this resolution, the settlement of the conflicts occurring in various regions of Europe, including the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, was withdrawn from the monopoly of individual states and placed at the direct disposal of the CSCE. At the same time, it was considered expedient to deploy the CSCE peacekeeping forces, rather than a separate state, to solve the problems arising in the conflict zone, including around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Over the following years, negotiations were conducted by Joseph Prezel, the US special negotiator on regional conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and the CIS, as well as adviser to the President of Armenia Girair Libaridin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Vafa Guluzade (since the end of 1995).

Although the parties were close to reaching resolution, in the end the final status of Karabakh and the status of Lachin and Shusha made the resolution of the conflict impossible. [8]

Kazimirov contended that, the “former US representative in the Minsk Group, who played the major role in its activities at one time, quite openly writes in his notes and articles that it was necessary to “restrain” Russia in its “neo-imperial ambitions”, and even does not make exceptions for a cease-fire. The notes of the American ambassador clearly show that the Washington’s approach to the cease-fire did not have an independent value, but it was only an element in the big geostrategic game which aimed at reducing the role of Russia in the South Caucasus". [7, p.41-52]

The Lisbon Summit identified the basic principles for resolving this problem. It was exactly due to serious efforts and facilitation of the United States that both summits ended with the adoption of decisions that fully comply with the interests of Azerbaijan and the international legal norms. Accordingly, Azerbaijani-American relations and cooperation was on the rise in 1996, and at the Lisbon summit, during the adoption of a decision on the elaboration of principles for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh problem - a vital issue for Azerbaijan - the United States once again demonstrated its principled stand. [3, p.378]

In April 1999, Aliyev and Kocharyan arrived in Washington DC for a summit dedicated to NATO’s 50th anniversary. Together with the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, they participated in an informal meeting with the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her office. Albright, deciding to help the parties to negotiate, left them alone. After this meeting, the bilateral meetings between the presidents became more frequent, they, together with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, met more than fifteen times. For the Armenian side, the most important point for resolving the conflict was to achieve the independence of Karabakh. Both presidents at one of their first meetings turned to the so-called "Goble Plan." It was named in honor of the former US State Department official, expert on the Caucasus Paul Goble, who has produced a memorandum in 1992, in which he put forward the idea to solve the Karabakh issue by the way of exchanging territories. In essence, the plan envisaged that in exchange for securing the “Lachin corridor” to Armenia, linking it with Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan could receive a corridor passing through the Megri region in southern Armenia, connecting it with Nakhichevan. Both sides would have faced with difficulty in accepting the Goble plan – Armenia, because it would lose connection with Iran and Azerbaijan, because it would lose what it said that it will never surrender. But both sides will also win what they have long wanted. Moreover, by focusing on the transfer of land, this type of resettlement will minimize the need for any change in population size. In any case, a cease-fire or resolution will not last very long unless both parties feel that they are not the last victims in this long-standing conflict. And, perhaps most importantly, any “decision” that the preservation of what Stalin and his successors did has been taken as a starting point is doomed to failure and it will be guaranteed that this region will remain unstable during the 21st century”. [5]

In Armenia, the “Goble Plan” caused even more controversy, since for Armenia the loss of Megri meant the loss of the southern border with its friendliest neighbor, Iran. Due to many reasons mentioned, the width of the territories was not specified, the reaction of both countries to this arrangement would be ambiguous. The assassination of the Prime Minister of Armenia in the parliament at the very moment when the parties were closest to the signing indicated the unacceptability of this peace agreement.

Based on the progress made during the deliberations, US Secretary of State Colin Powell invited the Presidents to continue talks in Key West, Florida, in April 2001, as an important foreign policy decision of the new Bush administration. The positive response of the co-chairs after the completion of the negotiations in Key West showed that the high expectations of the international community will be met. However, shortly thereafter, the momentum was lost and the “decisive” round of talks scheduled for June in Geneva was canceled. Looking back, the American co-chair Rudolph Perina emphasized that the parties are “incredibly close” to the resolution this time. The failure of the negotiations in Key West can be explained largely by the uncertainty and indecisiveness of both presidents to accept the agreement, opposing public opinion and the opposition in their countries.

Many were optimistic about the next president, Barack Obama, as a person who could positively influence many problems in the world. However, there is little evidence that Nagorno-Karabakh is a serious priority for reset in bilateral relations.

Since the presidency of Bush Junior, who himself became a mediator in the Key West negotiations between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, none of the American senior figures have participated in resolving the problem. Obama and his administration virtually withdrew from the process, as if passing the initiative to other mediators - Russia and France. US participation was indicated only by the rare calls of Secretary of State John Kerry to the heads of the conflicting states. Either Obama’s consultations with the Russian president Putin on the phone, during which the American president expresses his satisfaction with the mediation efforts of Russia and personally, the owner of the Kremlin.

Both the United States and Russia at this stage are interested in maintaining the status quo in the Karabakh conflict zone, which can be ensured with constantly ongoing meetings both under the Minsk Group format and with additional efforts from Russia in the form of holding meetings at the presidents’ level in the format of Armenia - Russia – Azerbaijan.

As Thomas de Waal states, the policy of the United States in the region is distorted as a result of influence from local lobbying groups, which have almost privatized the US policy towards Armenia and Azerbaijan. The actions of the Armenian lobby in the US Congress led to the adoption of one of the most abnormal legislative acts in the field of foreign policy – section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bans the US government aid to Azerbaijan. [1, p.242]

According to well-known political scientist Fikret Sadigov, if official Washington does not want the situation in the South Caucasus to be controlled by other centers of power, then the United States should take a decisive position on the issue of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Washington is quite pragmatic and understands that if you surrender all levers of influence to other regional players, in particular Russia, the United States can completely lose its influence in the region.

For nearly three decades, there has been no progress in resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a very negative effect on the domestic economy of Armenia and international trade. There was a rather pessimistic vision of the conflict resolution. Armenia suffers huge losses due to the blockade of borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. As already mentioned, none of the proposed settlement models was successful. Russia and the United States should work together to prevent the conflict escalation in the region. The government of Armenia needs to understand the senselessness of the current situation, assess the losses incurred by the country due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and prepare the people for negotiations on the return of seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh and start negotiations on the status of an autonomous republic. Unfortunately, now, the powerful influence of the Armenian lobby in the United States and in the world is hindering a sober assessment of the current situation in Armenia.


  1. DE WAAL, Thomas, Cherniy Sad, page 242.
  2. HASANOV Ali, Sovremennie Mezhdunarodnie otnosheniya I vneshnaya politika Azerbaijana, Baku 2013, page 369-370.
  3. HASANOV Ali, Sovremennie Mezhdunarodnie otnosheniya I vneshnaya politika Azerbaijana, Baku 2013, page 378.
  4. BAGUIROV Adil Nagorno-Karabakh: basis and reality of Soviet-era legal and economic claims used to justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan war
  5. GOBLE Paul, "How The 'Goble Plan' Was Born", RFE/RL Caucasus Report 3, no. 23, 8 June 2000.
  6. HILL Fiona, A Not-So-Grand Strategy: U.S. Policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia Since 1991, February 1, 2001.
  7. KAZIMIROV V., KARABAKH: Kak eto bilo; Journal “Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn”, № 5, 1996, pages. 41-52.
  8. LAITIN David D., Grigor Suny Ronald, Thinking a Way Out of Karabakh, October 2008.
  9. MARESCA. John Agony of Indifference in Nagorno-Karabakh-West must step in if it doesn't want to see Russia impose a solution - and restore its influence; June 27, 1994
  10. Obrashenie naselenia Khojalinskogo raiona k naroda mira, gosudarstvam, parlamentam I mezhdunarodnim organizatsiyam. Bakinskiy rabochiy, 25 February 1999, Official document, president library, page 34
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