By Aza Babayan in Moscow and Tigran Avetisian
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged to step up the prolonged search for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but did not announce any concrete agreements after weekend talks hosted by their Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliev met in a tête-à-tête format and were later joined by Medvedev at the Meiendorf Castle outside Moscow on Sunday amid fresh international hopes for a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by Russia, the United States and France
"The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to continue work, including during further contacts on the highest level, on agreeing a political resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and ordered their foreign ministers to intensify further steps in the negotiating process in coordination with the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group," the three leaders said in a joint declaration read out by Medvedev.
The declaration stressed the importance of continued efforts by the group’s American, French and Russian co-chairs to work out the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement acceptable to the conflicting parties. But it only vaguely alluded to a framework peace accord that was formally put forward by the co-chairs in November 2007.
Armenia and Azerbaijani are understood to have agreed to most of the key points of the proposed settlement. The mediators hoped before the Moscow talks that the two sides will overcome their remaining differences before the end of this year.
The mediating troika, including U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, held separate talks with Aliev and Sarkisian at Meiendorf later on Sunday. No details of those talks were made public and the mediators issued no joint statements afterwards.
Speaking to RFE/RL just before those talks, Yuri Merzlyakov, the Minsk Group’s Russian co-chair, described the trilateral declaration as a “historic” document that will speed up the peace process. He noted that Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders have jointly put pen to paper for the first time since the signing in May 1994 of a Russian-mediated truce that stopped the war in Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry appeared to downplay the document’s significance, though. “One should not look for anything new in the signing of the document,” a ministry spokesman, Khazar Ibrahim, told journalists in Baku on Monday, according to the Trend news agency. “Negotiations are still going on and their significance is reflected by the declaration. The groundwork needs to be laid for the transition to the next phase of the negotiations.”
A senior official in Yerevan seemed in a more buoyant mood. Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the governing Republican Party of Armenia, pointed to the declaration’s emphasis on a “political settlement” of the Karabakh conflict. “This runs counter to bellicose statements that were made by Azerbaijani officials,” he told RFE/RL.
Sharmazanov also pointed out that the declaration makes clear that the Minsk Group will remain the main mediating body in Karabakh talks. He said this disproved opposition allegations that Sarkisian is ready to let Armenia’s arch-rival Turkey take on a mediating role in the peace process.
Armenia’s main opposition alliance, meanwhile, declined to comment on the Moscow talks on Monday. Levon Zurabian, a senior member of the Armenian National Congress, told RFE/RL that the top leader of the alliance, Levon Ter-Petrosian, will issue a special statement on Tuesday.
(Armenian presidential press service photo)