U.S., Russian and French mediators met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan on Friday at the start of a fresh tour of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone which they hope will help to kick-start the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process.
Official Armenian sources gave very few details of Sarkisian’s meeting with the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and their separate talks with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian held earlier in the day.
The co-chairs declined to talk to journalists after the meeting with Nalbandian. Bernard Fassier, the chief French negotiator, said only that they plan to travel to Stepanakert on Saturday and proceed to Baku the following day.
The mediating troika already met with Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Warsaw on September 29. In an ensuing statement, it said they discussed “next steps aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“The Co-Chairs presented their work plan for the coming months, leading up to the December OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius. They will continue to work with the sides to delineate their current differences on the Basic Principles as a framework for a comprehensive peace settlement,” read the statement.
Aliyev and Sarkisian dramatically failed to overcome those differences at their most recent trilateral summit with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev held in the Russian city of Kazan last June. Some Azerbaijani officials suggested earlier this month that the two parties start working on a comprehensive peace treaty before agreeing on the basic principles.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian rejected the idea. A ministry statement quoted him as telling the mediators that it “contradicts the logic of the negotiating process and, naturally, the co-chairs’ approaches.”
Matthew Bryza, the former U.S. co-chair now serving as ambassador to Azerbaijan, made a similar point on Friday. “We believe it is important to finish work on the basic principles and then switch to negotiations on the final agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he said, according to the Trend news agency.
Bryza also reiterated U.S. opposition to possible attempts at a military solution to the dispute and Washington’s view that the Karabakh status quo is not sustainable. “Therefore, the parties should speed up negotiations,” he said.
The mediators have so far announced no plans to arrange more talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents or foreign ministers. Hence, widespread pessimism about chances of a breakthrough in the peace process in the coming months.
“At the moment it is still very premature to expect serious progress in the settlement process,” Davit Babayan, the spokesman for Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Babayan argued that the parties continue to stick to “mutually exclusive” positions on key elements of a would-be peace deal. He said the mediators will therefore concentrate on reinforcing the shaky ceasefire regime in the conflict zone for the time being.