By Emil Danielyan
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan shed no light on the future of the deadlocked Nagorno-Karabakh peace process after what they described as “very frank” talks held in Geneva on Thursday.
Reports from the Swiss city said President Robert Kocharian and his recently elected Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev smiled and appeared relaxed as they stood together after their first-ever meeting. The two leaders told reporters that it largely amounted to “an exchange of opinions” about how to reinvigorate the internationally sponsored peace talks that were put on hold ahead of this year’s presidential elections in their countries.
The Armenian Public Television quoted Kocharian as saying that he and Aliev “analyzed the new situation” in the zone of conflict but did not discuss specific peace plans. Kocharian’s spokesman told RFE/RL from Yerevan later in the day that the Armenian leader is “on the whole satisfied” with the talks that began in the presence of the American, French and Russian mediators and continued in a tete-a-tete format.
Aliev, for his part, reportedly said that the very fact of the meeting is positive and that the two presidents are “ready to continue the dialogue.” He said such meetings carry “an element of continuity,” apparently referring to a flurry of face-to-face encounters between his father and predecessor Heydar Aliev and Kocharian from 1999 through 2002.
Official Yerevan says that the challenge facing the conflicting parties now is to build upon far-reaching agreements apparently reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in April 2001.
“We expect today positive signals from Azerbaijan’s president to continue negotiations on the existing basis,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in an interview with the Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” published on Thursday. “In that case we will be able to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue in 2004 and there will be no deliberate dragging of feet on our part.”
Azerbaijan, however, denies the existence of any formal agreements, and its Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said after the Geneva talks that the parties may launch a new peace process. "We do not exclude starting from scratch, because Ilham Aliev is a new president. He may have some new ideas," Guliev was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. He did not elaborate.
The meeting took place at a hotel on the sidelines of a United Nations conference on information technology which began its work in Geneva on Wednesday. It was hastily arranged following the mediators’ weekend visit to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh during which they claimed to have outlined their unspecified “new ideas” to the parties.
However, Oskanian insisted in the newspaper interview that the envoys “made no new proposals, expressed no new thoughts” at their meeting with Kocharian last Saturday. “One can conclude that they probably calculated that Ilham Aliev is not prepared to listen to those ideas at this point,” he said.