By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev sounded on Monday unusually optimistic about prospects for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, saying that considerable progress was made during Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks last summer.
He also confirmed reports that the conflicting parties are now discussing a so-called “phased” settlement that was rejected by the Armenian side until recently.
“A new stage of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has almost started. The process, which we call the Prague process, envisages a stage-by-stage solution,” Aliev told his Security Council, according to an Azerbaijani TV report monitored by the BBC.
He was referring to a series of meetings between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers held in Prague in the presence of the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group. The two ministers are expected to again meet in the Czech capital later this month to try to build on their understandings.
“It was not easy to achieve this,” Aliev said. “Of course, I do not want to say that the issue has already been resolved. The talks are under way. We are making every effort for the talks to continue in a direction that will meet our interests.”
The phased peace deal mentioned by Aliev would lead to a gradual liberation of Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh, controlled by Armenian forces, before a final agreement on the disputed region’s status. The speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament, Murtuz Aleskerov, claimed last week that the troop withdrawal is likely to begin this year.
Armenian officials have declined to confirm or deny such claims. Furthermore, speaking to reporters last month, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian implied that the peace accord discussed by the parties would include at least some elements of the phased formula.