Senior U.S. and Russian envoys visited Nagorno-Karabakh and met with its ethnic Armenian leaders on Friday at the start of a fresh regional tour aimed at facilitating a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
Robert Bradtke and Igor Popov will be joined by the third co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Bernard Fassier of France, to hold similar talks in Yerevan and Baku this weekend, in preparation for a potentially key meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers.
The two ministers are due to meet -- most probably in the presence of top diplomats from the United States, Russia and France -- on the margins of the OSCE’s July 16-17 ministerial conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
In a joint statement issued last week, the presidents of the three mediating powers said they are instructing their foreign ministers to “work intensively to assist the two sides to overcome their differences” ahead of the Almaty gathering.
Bradtke cited the statement after talks with Karabakh President Bako Sahakian. “They instructed us and our ministers to work intensively in this period to try to overcome the differences in the peace process,” he told journalists in Stepanakert. “So we are having meetings here in Karabakh, in Yerevan and in Baku to prepare for this meeting,” he said.
According to Popov, the two envoys also spoke with Sahakian about issues that were discussed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their last meeting hosted by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in Saint Petersburg on June 18. He did not give any details.
Some senior pro-government parliamentarians in Yerevan said this week that Medvedev presented the two parties with new proposals aimed at pushing the peace process further forward. They said Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian reacted to them positively, unlike Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev.
The Armenian government has not confirmed these claims. It has only linked the Saint Petersburg talks with the most serious ceasefire violation around Karabakh in years that took place on the night from June 18-19. It left one Azerbaijani and four Armenian soldiers dead.
Popov said he and his American opposite number discussed the firefight with Sahakian General Movses Hakobian, the commander of the Karabakh Armenian army. “We reaffirmed our concern about the violation of the ceasefire agreement signed in 1994,” he told journalists. “We believe that this kind of incidents can damage the peace process and we discussed ways of preventing them in the future.”
The co-chairs’ latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy began ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s weekend visits to Baku and Yerevan. U.S. officials have said the Karabakh conflict will be high on her agenda.
“We are working both bilaterally … but also as co-chairs together to try to see whether we can make some progress in this period,” Bradtke said.