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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict prevents South Caucasus to realize its full potential, as a very rich region, economically, but also socially and culturally, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar said in an interview with Trend.

“The EU position is very clear: we want a peaceful and prosperous South Caucasus where individuals and societies can realise their full potential. For this to happen, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict needs an early resolution. The status quo is in many ways unsustainable and very fragile. The Minsk Group and its Co-Chairs is the internationally agreed format for the conflict settlement – agreed also by the sides – and the EU fully supports the efforts and proposals of the Co-Chairs aimed at finding a solution. When it comes to finding a resolution, it is important to underline that the sides have the primary responsibility: without compromises by the sides, there will be no resolution of the conflict. We of course recognise that this can be difficult, and the EU is prepared to support the sides and the Minsk Group Co-Chairs in these efforts,” he said.

According to him, this is one of the reasons why the EU insists on discussing the conflict settlement at high-level meetings in the region.

“We convey strong messages on progress towards peace, but we are also telling the sides that we are here to support a peace process, both during the talks under the auspices of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and afterwards for instance with reconstruction or building up interconnected economies and societies. As EUSR, I have close working contacts with the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group as well as with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, to make sure that what we do is supportive of the process they are leading. It is also important to inform our leadership in Brussels, as well as the Member States, about the different aspects of the ongoing peace process so that everyone is on the same page”

But the EU does more than political work, said Klaar adding

“We believe that for conflict resolution to be effective, the societies must also be involved. Again and again in other conflict contexts, we have seen that negotiated peace agreements are not holding up if the societies are not on board from the start. I do not think that the South Caucasus is an exception. So for the EU, one important element of this support to the official peace process is to work also with societies. This is what we do in the Georgia context, which is another part of my mandate. In the NK conflict context, we are supporting civil society-led confidence-building measures and people-to-people contacts across the divide through an initiative we call the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK).

This is a unique initiative involving several very experienced non-governmental organisations. We are of course not underestimating the difficulties: there are very strong feelings and sharp polarisations in this conflict and in such environment peacebuilding activities can be seen as threatening. I categorically reject this. In fact, people-to-people contacts and peace activities can show that there are mutual interests across the divide and that the conflict does not need to be seen in a zero-sum logic where one side can gain only if the other loses. If cooperation and mutual benefits prevail, for instance in the economic sphere, when it comes to tackle common challenges such as human security or the environment, or dealing with common cultural heritage in a responsible way, I am convinced it would be possible to help the peace process forward,” Toivo Klaar concluded.

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