By Emil Danielyan
Official Yerevan announced on Wednesday that President Robert Kocharian and his recently elected Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev will meet in Geneva Thursday for their first-ever talks on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that were suggested by international mediators.
The talks will come only days after a visit to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh by a team of French, Russian and U.S. diplomats who urged the parties to discuss their confidential “new ideas” on resolving the dispute. They said that a face-to-face discussion between Kocharian and Aliev will help them draft a formal peace plan that could break the decade-long deadlock in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
Announcing news of the meeting to RFE/RL, the Armenian president’s press secretary, Ashot Kocharian, said the two leaders will explore ways of reinvigorating the peace process sponsored by the three world powers. He declined to directly link the talks to the mediators’ tour of the region which ended on Sunday.
The official purpose of Kocharian’s and Aliev’s visits to Geneva is to attend a high-level global conference on information technology which opened on Wednesday.
The Azerbaijani Turan news agency reported earlier in the day that the mediating troika, which leads the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was also due in the Swiss city. Kocharian’s spokesman refused to confirm or deny this, however.
The co-chairs said at the weekend that the end of the one-year period of successive elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan opens a new window of opportunity for a solution to the Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromise. They made it clear that both sides should largely draw on and possibly combine different peace formulas that have already been on the negotiating table.
“We do not in principle surprise the presidents with new proposals which have ideas that have not been discussed previously,” Rudolf Perina, the chief U.S. envoy, told reporters in Yerevan. “We have to first discuss ideas in a very informal sense to see if it is possible to develop new concrete proposals, and that is the stage in which we are at present.”
The Geneva meeting will allow Kocharian to ascertain Aliev’s position Karabakh peace. The 42-year-old former playboy, who inherited power from his ailing father Heydar in a disputed presidential election last October, lacks political experience and, as some commentators believe, the muscle to sell an unpopular deal to the domestic political elite. Ilham has ruled out major concessions to the Armenian side in his public pronouncements so far.
Kocharian is far more familiar with Aliev senior whom he met for nearly two dozen times between 1999 and 2002. The two men were reportedly close to hammering out a peace accord in the spring of 2001. Their last bilateral encounter took place in August 2002.