A summit on Nagorno-Karabakh between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, due to take place in Geneva next month, has been postponed indefinitely, the Armenian foreign ministry was reported to have announced on Saturday. But officials in President Robert Kocharian's administration refused to confirm or refute the information, saying that international mediators had never fixed a date for the new round of peace talks. Azerbaijani President Heydar
Aliev, meanwhile, declared that conditions are now ripe for the conflicting parties to reach a peace settlement based on mutual compromise.
The concerted effort by France, Russia and the United States to speed up the tortuous negotiating process has led to a situation "favorable" for peace, Aliev said in a speech in Baku. "We must take advantage of that and come to peace," he said, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency.
In the words of the Azeri leader, a mutually acceptable solution to the Karabakh problem requires "equal" concessions from the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. The remark contrasted with tough talk in Baku that followed the recent tour of the region by French, Russian and US diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group of the OSCE. The mediators toned down their optimism regarding prospects for peace after talks in Baku late last week. Aliev signaled a toughening of his position on Tuesday when he made it clear that it is the Armenians that must compromise first because of their continuing occupation of Azerbaijani lands.
The renewed pessimism was fueled on Saturday by reports that the planned Geneva summit, which had been expected to produce a framework agreement on Karabakh, will not take place.
"The Geneva meeting has been put off until a date yet to be fixed," Dziunik Aghajanian, the Armenian foreign ministry spokeswoman, told Reuters. "During their recent visit the co-chairs expressed concern that rushing will not help the process of resolving the Karabakh conflict."
"Society is not yet ready to compromise and it is hard to say when the meeting will take place. But that does not mean that the [peace] process has stopped."
Agence France Press quoted Aghajanian as saying that the
Armenian-Azerbaijani summit has been put off at the suggestion of the
mediators. She told RFE/RL on Wednesday that the two leaders will take a final decision on the Geneva talks on May 31, on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Minsk.
A source in the presidential administration in Yerevan told RFE/RL that the mediating troika has still to decide whether it makes sense for Kocharian and Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliev to meet in mid-June in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough.
The chief US negotiator, Care Cavanaugh, has complained that both Aliev and Kocharian have so far failed to prepare their people for the concessions both sides will have to make for peace.
Aliev Saturday again rejected opposition calls for a military campaign to restore Azerbaijani control of Karabakh and surrounding territories. He said: "They [the hard-line opposition groups] must know that we are prepared for a war and can wage it, but that there is no need of doing that now."
Emil Danielyan in Prague