International mediators crossed the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” on Wednesday after holding talks with Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership in Stepanakert during their ongoing tour of the conflict zone.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group used the occasion to monitor the ceasefire regime at a section of the frontline east of the disputed territory. They were due to arrive in Baku and hold talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev later in the day.
The mediators began their latest round of shuttle diplomacy in Yerevan on Monday and proceeded to Stepanakert the next day to meet with Bako Sahakian, the president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. They refused to make any public statements in the Armenian and Karabakh capitals.
Sahakian’s office gave few details of the talks. In a written statement, it said the Karabakh leader accused Baku of impeding progress in the negotiating process and continuing to provoke ceasefire violations.
Aliyev, meanwhile, slammed the Armenians as he chaired a cabinet meeting in Baku on Tuesday. “The Armenian side is using every opportunity to drag out negotiations,” he said, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
“Their goal is to control the occupied Azerbaijani territories as long as possible and turn the de facto situation [on the ground] into a de jure situation in the future,” he claimed.
The remarks seemed to contradict Aliyev’s assessment of his most recent meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian that was hosted by Russia in Sochi on March 4. “I think that the Armenian side now understands more clearly than it did last year that the only way to establish peace and stability in the region is to start pulling out of [occupied] Azerbaijani territories,” he said on March 16.
Sarkisian, for his part, spoke last month of “certain progress in Azerbaijan’s position” which he said manifested itself at Sochi. He said the summit brightened prospects for a Karabakh settlement.
The mediators said later in March that they will again visit the region to try to build on “the positive momentum” created by the two presidents.