Armenia and Azerbaijan reported further progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after a fresh meeting of their presidents held in Saint-Petersburg, Russia on Thursday.
Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliev spoke one on one for about two and a half hours before and after being joined by their foreign ministers and the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. It was their fifth face-to-face encounter in one year.
Neither president made any public statements after the talks. Sarkisian’s office issued only a written statement saying that the meeting took place “in a constructive atmosphere.”
“The parties agreed to move forward in the negotiating process,” the statement said. It added that they instructed their top diplomats and the mediators to continue their efforts to narrow Yerevan’s and Baku’s disagreements and to prepare for yet another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
“Although we can not talk about a breakthrough or substantial progress today, the parties are moving forward and have agreed to continue negotiations,” Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told journalists. Nalbandian’s Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, gave a similarly positive assessment of the talks.
“What we heard today [from the presidents] is creating a basis for the continuation of our work,” Mammadyarov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He said he believes that Saint-Petersburg talks were more productive than the previous Aliev-Sarkisian meeting held in Prague a month ago.
According to the mediators, during that meeting Aliev and Sarkisian bridged some of their differences on basic principles of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement proposed by the troika. The Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, has repeatedly spoken of “significant progress” made in Prague.
Bryza told RFE/RL’s Armenian service last week that the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are unlikely iron out all of their disagreements on “a handful of remaining principles” in Saint-Petersburg and will therefore need to hold more talks “relatively quickly.” “Based on their conversation in Prague, I do believe that a breakthrough can happen at Saint-Petersburg and/or shortly thereafter,” he said.