By Armen Dulian in Prague
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan admitted late Thursday that a long-awaited breakthrough in the stalled Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is highly unlikely before next year’s presidential elections in their countries. Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev made the statement after yet another face-to-face meeting held in Prague on the sidelines of a NATO summit.
As usual, very few details of the direct negotiations were available. Kocharian said they were productive but again would not go into details. Aliev similarly noted that such contacts facilitate the protracted search for peace.
Kocharian went straight into talks with his 79-year-old Azerbaijani counterpart on his arrival in the Czech capital -- before actually attending the summit’s sessions. After speaking one on one for about an hour, the two men were joined by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, accompanying Kocharian, said that although they have been discussing various peace options, the Armenian side will never agree to Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
Both Aliev and Kocharian are facing reelection next year and are therefore unlikely to cut peace deals requiring unpopular mutual concessions. This reality was on Thursday acknowledged by the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Ordway. But he stressed that continued Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue is vital for the future of the peace process.
“I think that it is still possible and desirable for the presidents to continue this process because they can do a lot of work to accelerate prospects for the settlement after the elections,” Ordway told a news conference in Yerevan.
Meanwhile, reports from Baku said on Wednesday that Azerbaijan has harshly criticized French officials for meeting with the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic, Arkady Ghukasian, during his visit to Paris this week. The charge d'affaires at the French embassy in Azerbaijan, Thibault Fourriere, was summoned afternoon to a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov and handed a note of protest.
"The deputy minister informed the French side of Azerbaijan's belief that such meetings in future would be unacceptable," the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.