By Ruzanna Stepanian
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan spoke for nearly three hours late Sunday and early Monday in closely watched talks on Nagorno-Karabakh which could prove decisive for international efforts to resolve the bitter dispute between their nations.
Information about the meeting held on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit in Warsaw was scarce. Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian were reported to approve another series of talks between their foreign ministers who have reported progress towards a peaceful settlement in recent months. More importantly, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov indicated that the two leaders discussed a timetable for Armenian withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh.
“We are discussing which district should be liberated and when,” Mammadyarov told Azerbaijan’s ATV channel, according to BBC Monitoring. “They (the Armenians) agree that all the districts should be returned, however, they are thinking of a timeframe. There are many issues involved such as the military issue, the return of refugees, the issue of land mines and the rehabilitation of the territories.”
Another Azerbaijani TV station, ANS, quoted Mammadyarov as saying that although Aliev and Kocharian "did not make a significant breakthrough" they decided to continue the so-called “Prague process” of meetings of the two foreign ministers mediated by French, Russian and U.S. diplomats.
The Armenian side refused to release any details of the Warsaw talks which began at 11 p.m. local time and continued into early hours of the morning. “The presidents did not find it necessary to issue any statements to the media after the meeting,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL. “There is nothing I can say about their agreements and discussions. The presidents will do that if they find it necessary.”
According to Gasparian, Aliev and Kocharian began the meeting in the presence of the Russian and French foreign ministers as well as the mediating troika and then spoke for two hours in a tête-à-tête format. Speaking to journalists after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on Monday, Aliev said the two presidents “reviewed” their positions.
“You know that our foreign ministers often meet and discuss different issues,” he said. “We shall not issue a statement for the press today as it is early yet. I hope that the negotiations will produce results and the issues between us will be resolved.”
Kocharian, for his part, avoided any contact with the media. "I see the prospect for finding a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the context of respect for European values," he said without elaborating in a subsequent speech at the Warsaw summit.
The Aliev-Kocharian talks were preceded by Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s meeting with the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Gasparian declined to reveal its details.
Oskanian said earlier that further progress in the peace progress depends on what the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders will decide. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian likewise said last week that “a lot depends” on the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
The conflicting parties have reportedly been discussing a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict whereby a final agreement on the disputed region’s status would be preceded by the return of occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper.
The Armenians are reportedly seeking international guarantees that Karabakh will remain under their control in the future. That could taken the form of the international community promising to hold an independence referendum in Karabakh in 10 or 15 years from now.
Mammadyarov hinted at such possibility when he said that “ it is up to the local people to decide” Karabakh’s status. But he at the same time noted ambiguously that “there should be no threats to Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.”