Maresca: “I would not have expected Karabakh cease-fire to last as long as it has”
Wartime U.S. envoy reflects on the origins of the 17-year peace process
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday May 22, 2009
Washington, - Ambassador John (Jack) Maresca was the first U.S. official to directly deal with the Karabakh conflict as a special envoy between 1992 and 1994. His diplomatic career included postings as the U.S. representative to the Conference (now Organization) for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), chairperson of the delegation that negotiated the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, and deputy head of the delegation that negotiated the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.
Following his Karabakh assignment, Mr. Maresca headed the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty-affiliated Open Media Research Institute in Prague, was vice president at Unocal, the oil company that has since merged with Chevron, and president of the Business Humanitarian Forum in Geneva.
Currently, a rector at the University for Peace, a United Nations institution in Costa Rica, Ambassador Maresca answered Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan's questions by e-mail on May 18.
Armenian Reporter: When the cease-fire in May 1994 was concluded, did you expect it to last as long as it has? Why do you think it has lasted so long?
John Maresca: No, I would not have expected it to last as long as it has, since there had previously been a number of cease-fires which did not last very long.
I am not close enough to the current situation to know why it has lasted.
Birth of the Minsk Group
AR: You were U.S. ambassador to CSCE in 1989-92. How did CSCE/OSCE first become involved in Karabakh mediation? In early 1992 the United Nations was first to dispatch its envoy, former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, to the conflict area. Why wasn't the Karabakh mandate given to the UN?
JM: Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, I pressed the CSCE to accept all the newly independent states as full members of the CSCE, on the grounds that they had already been members when they were within the USSR. Although there was some resistance to this, eventually it was accepted, and at a senior-level CSCE meeting in Prague [on January 30-31, 1992] all the newly independent states were accepted as full members.
At that same meeting it was noted that there was a conflict going on in the Caucasus region, involving newly admitted members, and the suggestion was made that the CSCE should look into it, and should host a conference to mediate a solution. The government of Belarus offered to host such a conference, which was from that moment called the "Minsk Conference."
It was agreed that a number of interested CSCE delegates would visit the region. I arranged for a U.S. Air Force plane to take us to both Baku and Yerevan, and Russia eventually provided a Russian army helicopter to take us to Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabakh.
AR: How did the Minsk Group come about? On what basis was its composition established? Why was a group set up rather than a CSCE envoy directly appointed? What were the Group's main accomplishments between 1992 and 1994?
JM: Although there had been agreement that there would be a peace conference in Minsk, and that there would be a visit to the region by senior representatives of the CSCE, there was no CSCE agreement on any ongoing mechanism of any kind.
Italy volunteered to chair the Minsk Conference, whenever it might take place, and nominated an Italian political figure [Mario Raffaelli] as the chairman of the Minsk Conference. On behalf of the United States, I pressed the new Italian chairman to convene an urgent negotiating process, to see if the basic issues of the conflict could be resolved and, theoretically, to prepare for the Minsk Conference.
At the Villa Madama
Under this pressure, the Italians convened a discussion session among the parties to the conflict. This took place [starting in June 1992] at the Villa Madama, a discreet conference center near Rome. It included representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh. There had to be a careful discussion of "seating arrangements" since Nagorno-Karabakh was not recognized as a sovereign state.
A few other countries volunteered to take part - notably the United States, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, and Sweden, as observers and facilitators. This group of countries became the "Minsk Group."
There was no incentive to appoint a "special envoy." The issue was too sensitive, too far away, and possibly too hopeless for such a step, and spreading the responsibility among a number of interested countries seemed an easier way to go.
The Minsk Group's main accomplishment was to create the possibility for a cease-fire on the ground. Of course a cease-fire is not a complete or final solution, and can create a "frozen conflict," but it does at least stop the immediate bloodshed.
AR: As the first U.S. envoy involved in Karabakh talks, what resources did you draw on? Were you able to visit Karabakh itself? Without direct presence in the conflict area, what sources was the U.S. government using in trying to establish facts on the ground?
JM: Resources were limited, but I think we had pretty good information on developments. I had my own plane, supplied by the U.S. Air Force.
I visited Karabakh via Russian helicopter and/or land vehicles on several occasions, and traveled throughout Karabakh. I held discussions with the presidents, foreign ministers, and security officials in Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert. I also traveled to the frontier zones by vehicles on both the Armenian and the Azerbaijan sides. I was able to visit virtually any place I wanted to visit.
We also had close consultations with the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries on what was going on in the region. Within a short time the United States established embassies in Baku and Yerevan.
AR: Following April 1993 fighting, when Kelbajar was captured, the UN Security Council passed its first resolution on the Karabakh issue. Who initiated that effort? Why were resolutions only passed in 1993 and not in 1992 when major military operations commenced? And not in 1994 when the bulk of war casualties were suffered by both sides?
JM: I was not following events in the UN. In general terms I believe there was hope that the Minsk Group could be successful, and so there was reluctance among the interested international community to "take over" the issue in another forum.
AR: How was your relationship with Russia's envoy for Karabakh talks at the time, Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov? Mr. Kazimirov has said that throughout the peace process, the United States was often seeking to upstage Russia.
JM: I think my relations with Kazimirov were friendly, but obviously subject to mutual suspicions. Dealing with Russia in the period following the breakup of the Soviet Union was complicated and involved a lot of sensitivities. There were times when different branches of the Russian government were not in complete coordination with each other.
AR: Mr. Kazimirov has said publicly that in September 1993 in Moscow, U.S. officials showed him a so-called "non-paper" outlining U.S. opposition to any Karabakh peace deal that could result in the introduction of Russian peacekeepers in the region. Could you provide any details on that?
JM: I don't know what "non-paper" you are referring to here. However, I never favored the use of Russian peacekeepers, since I thought Russia had its own agenda in the region.
AR: Would it be fair to say that Caspian energy was a major motivating factor for the United States to become involved in the Caucasus? Having worked both for the U.S. government and a major oil company, how do you see the interplay between government and business interests?
JM: The U.S. became involved in the Minsk Group efforts because of concerns about the conflict, including those expressed by Armenian-Americans.
When U.S. energy-resource companies became involved in the region, a little later, access to Caspian-region energy also became a consideration.
But there have always been very severe limitations on what the U.S. was able or willing to undertake in the Caucasus region.