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Volume 715: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

My Lords, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met six times during 2009 to take forward negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including most recently on 22 November. These meetings have been constructive but many issues remain unresolved. We fully support the Minsk process and we have encouraged both sides to continue working towards a peaceful settlement to provide a stable, secure and prosperous future for the people of the region.

My Lords, 18 years is a mighty long time for no material progress by the Minsk Group, particularly given that Britain has such a vested interest in regional peace. What possibility exists for a compromise to allow for a negotiated settlement? What can be done to bring Russia more to the table, or is it time to look to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to determine whether legal principles of territorial integrity should supersede that of self-determination?

I thank the noble Viscount. As he is well aware, the UK strongly supports the OSCE Minsk process but of course understands the limitations of what has been achieved to date. I should like to assure the noble Viscount that the UK supports the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in accordance with UN charter and OSCE principles. We encourage the parties to reach a negotiated settlement, which could include the International Court of Justice. Under the UN charter, rulings of the ICJ are binding on the parties concerned.

Given the high Turkish hinterland in Azerbaijan, does the Minister feel that the Zurich Protocol between Turkey and Armenia signed in October this year on the reopening of that border will assist in this long-standing dispute? It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and has resulted in millions of refugees in Azerbaijan from the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Does the Minister also see the usefulness of the European Commission in this regard? No doubt the Government are working through the Minsk Group and the OSCE, but is it not time to call on the strength of the European Commission, which I believe has not yet been fully deployed, where Britain could play a key role?

I can assure the noble Baroness that we are fully engaged with European Union efforts in the whole region. On her direct question about the Armenia-Turkey reconciliation process and Nagorno-Karabakh, there is no formal linkage between the two issues and the Government believe that progress on the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Turkey should help towards a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We have urged all concerned to maintain the momentum of the normalisation process. As I said earlier, we want to see it accelerated so that we can ensure a positive impact and effect across the region.

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the UK-Azerbaijan Business Council. Does the Minister agree that in an area which is of increasing importance to Britain, not least for energy security reasons, this is a dispute with 100 year-old roots which are nevertheless poisoning the whole region. Can she assure us that the Government will give their full support to US initiatives to carry forward a resolution of the situation and try to get the Russians into a more constructive mood? Further, following the observation of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, will they ensure that Turkey, in dealing with Armenia, is also completely even-handed in its dealings with Azerbaijan, with whom it used to be allies?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. On the question of the United States’s involvement in efforts to resolve the conflict, the US chairs the OSCE Minsk Group, together with France and Russia, and plays an important role in encouraging Azerbaijan and Armenia to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. With regard to Turkey and Armenia, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, together with the other Minsk Group Foreign Ministers, has been engaged in this process and was present at the signing of the joint protocols between the Turkish and Armenian presidents in October. Of course, as the noble Lord said, Azerbaijan is a strategically important country, both in energy production and in its position as a key transit route for Caspian oil and gas.

My Lords, given the limited progress which has taken place over the past 18 years, as the Minister acknowledged, do Her Majesty’s Government believe that it is now time to expand the Minsk Group and, to revert to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said, formally involve the EU on a basis that we have not seen hereunto?

It is possible that under the new arrangements and management of foreign policy that will be in place, it is to be hoped, in the early part of next year, we could see a more definite and constructive engagement by the European Union. We have an EU representative in the region who is actively engaged and would be able to facilitate more direct involvement under the new arrangements resulting from the Lisbon treaty.

Will the Minister also consider the fact that there are still four United Nations resolutions outstanding asking for the withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh and from the seven other Azeri regions that it occupies? Can Her Majesty’s Government do anything about that and put pressure on the United Nations to, in turn, put pressure on the Armenians?

What I can do, as I have tried to do since the beginning of the answers to this Question, is to assure the House that we are working hard in every possible place, including the United Nations, to ensure that those issues and concerns are raised and not only talked about but acted upon.

My Lords, having seen the atrocious conditions that refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are living in at the moment, this dispute is very urgent indeed. Can the Minister confirm that Russia is even- handed in its approach, that it has no troops assisting the Armenian troops in that territory, and that it is encouraging everyone to abide by the United Nations resolutions?

I thank the noble Lord. We have considered Russia’s role in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia, as one of the Minsk co-chairs, can and should play a constructive role by encouraging the parties in the conflict to reach a mutually agreeable solution. As the noble Lord pointed out, considerable misery is being suffered in that region, particularly by refugees living in terrible circumstances in Azerbaijan. The situation needs to be addressed and Russia and others who have influence over these matters must be fully engaged.