By Emil Danielyan
International mediators will arrive in Azerbaijan on Wednesday to start yet another round of regional shuttle diplomacy aimed at brokering a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, officials said on Monday.
A spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL that the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group will proceed to Yerevan and meet top government officials there at the weekend. It was not clear if they are scheduled to travel to Nagorno-Karabakh or meet the disputed territory’s leadership in the Armenian capital.
The Azerbaijani APA news agency quoted the Minsk Group’s French co-chair, Bernard Fassier, as saying that the mediators will present the results of the upcoming talks to other members of the group in Vienna next week.
The co-chairs’ visit will come three weeks after first-ever meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and his recently elected Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian held in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Both sides described the meeting as “constructive.” They said the two presidents instructed their foreign ministers to renew their efforts to further narrow the conflicting parties’ differences over a framework peace accord put forward by the mediators last November.
Aliev and Sarkisian’s predecessor, Robert Kocharian, reportedly agreed on most of the proposed basic principles of a Karabakh settlement. Those include an Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh back and the holding of a referendum on the disputed region’s status.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for State Daniel Fried described the Saint-Petersburg talks as an “important step forward” during a congressional hearing in Washington last week. “Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to working within the Minsk process and expressed their readiness to continue discussions on the basic principles,” he said.
Fried also warned Azerbaijan against walking out of the peace talks and attempting to win back Karabakh by force. “We hope that the Azerbaijani government will avoid the temptation of thinking that renewed fighting is a viable option,” he said. “In our view, it is not. We have noted our concern with persistent bellicose rhetoric by some Azerbaijani officials.”