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(AFP) - The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday promised to keep up dialogue on the bitter stand-off between their countries over Nagorno-Karabakh. Presidents Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia held more than three hours of late-night talks in the Kazakh capital mediated by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, but gave few clues as to what had passed between them.

"We need time -- the president of Azerbaijan knows our position more concretely -- the process is continuing in a constructive way," Kocharian said at a joint news conference with Aliev.

"Further development can resolve this question -- we discussed various questions on the path to a resolution," Aliev said.

Aliev had earlier stressed the importance of Thursday's talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which saw the two neighbors fight a war in the early 1990s and which remains unresolved. Aliev has faced calls in his home country to take a bolder stand on the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and the thousands of Azeris who have fled the disputed area.

International mediators had been urging face-to-face meetings between the two sides, which had faltered during the transition of power in Azerbaijan from Aliev’s father Heydar. The two leaders on Wednesday held two-way talks before joining Putin for more discussions.

“I am happy to see that you have not lost your optimism... and are continuing the dialogue at the highest level," Putin said as the talks began, on the sidelines of a summit of former Soviet republics here.

"Hopes are very high, despite the complexity of the problem," Putin said, adding that "whatever the result, a meeting of three leaders is always a step forwards."

Aliev thanked Russia for taking part in the summit talks. "Our neighbor Russia, co-president of the Minsk Group, plays a key part in the settlement," he said.

The Minsk Group, comprising France, Russia and the United States, has been mediating between the two states for the past decade.

(GI-Photolur photo: Kocharian shakes hands with Aliev as Putin walks in the background during their meeting in Astana.)
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