Fotolur photo: Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev after a meeting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
By Armen Zakarian and Emil Danielyan
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan ended their long-awaited face-to-face talks on Wednesday with upbeat statements on prospects for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev said they agreed to re-invigorate the stalled peace process and maintain the ceasefire regime around Karabakh, but stopped short of announcing a breakthrough on any of the sticking points.
The two presidents smiled and appeared in good mood as they spoke to journalists after a four-hour one-on-one meeting held in a portable cabin on the border between their countries, only 60 kilometers southeast of Yerevan. The area is located on the western edge of Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave.
“Our mood is good and we are on the whole satisfied with the course of the meeting,” Kocharian said. “But we can not tell you anything concrete…because this entire process is quite complicated.”
“Nonetheless, we hope that this meeting will push forward the process, which slowed down recently, and that we will be able to move further forward,” Kocharian added.
Aliev likewise noted that the talks were “useful.” He said: “President Kocharian and I have looked into many variants of the [conflict’s] settlement. We have analyzed the results of our previous meeting and agreed that the negotiating potential has not yet been exhausted.”
It was the 18th bilateral meeting between Aliev and Kocharian since 1999 and the first since last November. It was also their longest single encounter.
Kocharian argued that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart are therefore best placed to settle the long-running Karabakh conflict. “If we don’t solve this problem, who else will resolve it? Taking into consideration Heydar Alievich’s and my Karabakh-related backgrounds, we feel a big burden of responsibility,” he said.
The talks were preceded by a separate meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani defense ministers who have coordinated tight security measures that were put in place in and around the summit venue. As part of them, the two rival militaries posted monitors on each other’s border positions overlooking the area, anxious to rule out sporadic gunfire.
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian told Azerbaijani reporters the conflicting parties should agree on “mutual compromises,” but ruled out Karabakh’s possible return under Azerbaijan’s control.
However, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, underlining the depth of Armenian-Azerbaijani differences over Karabakh’s status, reiterated Baku’s position that restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the Armenian-populated enclave must be a part of a future peace deal. Speaking to the Armenian press corps, Guliev again denied that Aliev and Kocharian had agreed a framework peace deal on Karabakh during similar negotiations held in Paris in March 2001. He said the two presidents did discuss such a document in the French capital but did not reach an agreement because it was unacceptable to the Azerbaijani government.
Last June, Aliev acknowledged the existence of the so-called “Paris principles.” But he alleged that it was Armenia that subsequently backtracked on them. Armenian leaders, for their part, have accused Aliev of presenting a "distorted version" of the Paris principles, strongly denying his claims that the peace accord was based on the idea of an exchange of territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Guliev on Wednesday also admitted that Aliev and Kocharian will find it more difficult to make mutual concessions ahead of the presidential elections which will take place in both Azerbaijan and Armenia next year.
Both leaders will be seeking reelection and could be less willing to make unpopular decisions on the issue.