By Astghik Bedevian
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have tentatively agreed to meet early next month for potentially decisive talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Monday.
Oskanian told RFE/RL that the meeting, to be held in the Russian city of Saint-Petersburg on the sidelines of a June 9-10 summit of former Soviet republics, will likely be finally confirmed during international mediators’ next visit to the conflict zone scheduled for next week.
Two of the three mediators, Russia’s Yuri Merzlyakov and France’s Bernard Fassier, already visited Yerevan and Baku last week to prepare for the crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit. They said Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev agreed to hold face-to-face talks. They expressed hope that the two leaders will agree on the basic principles of peaceful settlement proposed by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
“If the Saint-Petersburg meeting is successful, then the number of principles that have not yet been fully agreed on will be practically brought down to zero,” Merzlyakov told reporters in Yerevan on Thursday.
Oskanian was more cautious in that regard, saying that the conflicting parties are still trying to bring their positions closer to each other and have not yet reached a point where they will be able to sign concrete agreements. “It’s difficult to say what results [the Aliev-Kocharian meeting] will yield, but one has to hope that some progress will be made as a result of the meeting,” he said.
Speaking at a Friday news conference in Baku, Merzlyakov, said Baku and Yerevan continue to disagree on the future of the Lachin district that provides for the shortest overland link between Karabakh and Armenia proper. Azerbaijan demands its liberation along with six other Azerbaijani districts around the disputed enclave that were occupied by Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. The Armenian side rejects this, saying that the Lachin corridor is vital for Karabakh’s security.