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By Gevorg Stamboltsian in London
International mediators spoke of an upcoming “first step” toward the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as they held highly confidential talks with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in London on Friday.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov met separately with the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group at the U.S. embassy in Britain, apparently avoiding a face-to-face encounter. No details of the so-called “proximity talks” were immediately made public.

Oskanian declined to comment on them before returning to Yerevan later in the day. A brief statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said the talks focused on preparations for a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. It is expected to take place next month, the statement said.

The mediating troika confirmed in a rare written statement that the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit is “envisaged in mid-May.” The statement, which was released from the OSCE headquarters in Vienna and was apparently prepared ahead of the London talks, said the co-chairs will again meet with Oskanian and Mammadyarov by the end of this month.

The mediators declared that the Karabakh peace process has entered a “sensitive juncture, where a first step towards an agreement mediated by the Co-Chairs could be at hand in the framework of the discussions between the parties.” They also expressed concern about the recent upsurge in tension along Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact around Karabakh, which has resulted in ceasefire violations and even fueled talk of renewed war.

The Minsk Group called on the parties to “reinforce the cease-fire on the line of contact and refrain from any public statements that could lead to escalation of the conflict.” More importantly, it also urged them to “prepare their populations for a balanced negotiated agreement that will require compromise on both sides.”

The group’s Russian co-chair, Yuri Merzlyakov, said earlier that Oskanian and Mammadyarov will be presented with a new framework peace plan. Oskanian, however, claimed on Wednesday that the Armenian sides expects only a set of general ideas on the conflict’s resolution. Armenian diplomatic sources in London told RFE/RL that he did not get any formal proposals or hear “anything new” from the mediators.

(Photolur photo: The co-chairs meeting journalists on a recent trip to Yerevan.)
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