By Ruben Meloyan
U.S. and French mediators will travel to Moscow ahead of Sunday’s meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents hosted by Russia, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian announced on Thursday.
Nalbandian said he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov will meet the American, French as well as Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group in the Russian capital on Saturday. He said the co-chairs could also meet Presidents Ilham Aliev and Serzh Sarkisian after their trilateral meeting with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev has initiated the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit amid renewed international hopes for a near-term solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Russian president and other officials have expressed hope that Aliev and Sarkisian will bridge their remaining differences on a framework peace accord proposed by the Minsk Group.
The Russian initiative has fuelled talk of Moscow seeking to sideline the West in the Karabakh peace process as part of its efforts to boost its influence in the South Caucasus after the recent war with Georgia.
However, the initiative was welcomed by the United States on Wednesday. "We are pleased by this initiative that Moscow is undertaking. We hope that the initiative succeeds. We are monitoring it very closely," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
“We hope that the meeting of the presidents will give yet another serious impetus to the acceleration of the negotiations,” Nalbandian said for his part. He said the success of the Moscow talks depends on whether Azerbaijan will embrace mutual compromise. The Armenian side is ready to make its share of the concessions, he said.
“We can find a settlement with Azerbaijan,” Nalbandian told a news conference. “That will be possible if Azerbaijan expresses political will and opts for an appropriate settlement, instead of taking disruptive steps in various international organizations and making parallel statements.”
Sarkisian said at the weekend that the Karabakh dispute can be resolved only if Azerbaijan recognizes the Karabakh Armenians’ “right to self-determination.” But Aliev insisted on Friday that Baku will never accept Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
Nalbandian also dismissed opposition claims that Sarkisian is re-orienting Armenia’s foreign policy towards the West in hopes of securing U.S. and European support for his rule. “If somebody notices some change in our relations with Russia, I can assure them that that change can only reinforce, expand and deepen our strategic and allied relations with Russia, “ he said.