International mediators shuttled between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Friday in an effort to push the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process further forward and, in particular, arrange yet another meeting of the two countries’ presidents.
Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian implied ahead of their arrival in Yerevan that the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework accord is still not imminent despite the recent optimism of the mediating powers.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group met with President Serzh Sarkisian and Nalbandian before flowing back to Baku in the afternoon. They already met President Ilham Aliyev there on Thursday.
As always, official Armenian sources gave no details of the talks. Sarkisian’s office said only that the mediators brought up “a number of issues” related to the negotiating process and briefed the Armenian president on the results of their talks in Baku.
Merzlyakov told RFE/RL afterwards that they proposed a date and venue for the next Aliyev-Sarkisian encounter. He refused to elaborate, saying that there is still no final agreement on the summit.
The two presidents most recently met in Moldova’s capital Chisinau on October 9 amid renewed hopes for a breakthrough in the protracted peace process. Although no concrete agreement was announced after the three-hour talks, the mediators said the conflicting parties moved closer to overcoming their differences over the “basic principles” of a Karabakh settlement which the troika had formally put forward in Madrid in November 2007.
Aliyev insisted, however, that the Chisinau meeting was “unproductive.” His foreign minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, claimed that Yerevan has toughened its negotiating position of late. Armenian officials denied that.
Aliyev and Sarkisian reportedly made significant progress during their face-to-face meetings held in the first half of this year, prompting the mediators to suggest that a breakthrough is on the cards. In a rare joint statement issued in early July, the U.S., Russian and French presidents urged the two men to “resolve the few differences remaining between them and finalize their agreement on these Basic Principles.”
But speaking to RFE/RL late on Thursday, Nalbandian indicated that the parties are not on the verge of cutting such a deal despite “some positive developments.” “That is a fairly lengthy and difficult process,” he said. “We are not saying that the issue will be solved tomorrow, the day after or one or three months later.”
Nalbandian made the comments in parliament where he attended a committee hearing on the Armenian government’s draft budget for next year. He told lawmakers that the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations are currently centering on the final status and security of Karabakh. He gave no further details.
“When we reach agreement on those two principles we will continue negotiations on the other principles,” Nalbandian told RFE/RL. “There are more than ten principles in that document. And when we reach some agreement on those principles we will start negotiations on a draft agreement on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
Under the Madrid document, Karabakh’s status would be determined by the disputed region’s predominantly Armenian population in a future referendum. The parties have yet to work out key practical modalities of that vote. They are also understood to disagree on the status of a future land corridor between Karabakh and Armenia.