By Emil Danielyan
Armenia described Wednesday the latest meeting between Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev as a further “step forward” in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh but denied Azerbaijani claims about an impending Armenian withdrawal from all occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper.
“The Armenian side finds positive the latest meeting in Warsaw between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Hamlet Gasparian, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement. “It was yet another step forward in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Gasparian added that the Aliev-Kocharian meeting, which lasted for about three hours late Sunday and early Monday, paved the way for another series of talks between Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. He said the French, Russian and U.S. mediators co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group are “already working to organize the next round of negotiations.”
Aliev and Kocharian were expected to try to build on progress reportedly made by their foreign minister during a series of talks mediated by the Minsk Group co-chairs. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, they succeeded in doing that. A ministry statement cited by the Itar-Tass news agency on Tuesday pointed to “positive results attained during this year's discussion of the main components of the settlement.”
It is not clear what those components are. The conflicting parties have reportedly been discussing a gradual solution to the bitter dispute whereby Karabakh’s status will be formally determined after the return of Azerbaijani districts around the disputed territory.
Mammadyarov claimed that Aliev and Kocharian discussed a timetable for Armenian pullout from the occupied lands. “We are discussing which district should be liberated and when,” he said. “They (the Armenians) agree that all the districts should be returned.”
Gasparian denied the claims, however. “As for the Azerbaijani side’s statements about the return of districts that are controlled by Armenian forces, they absolutely do not correspond to reality,” he said without elaborating.
The Armenian side has repeatedly ruled out the return of at least one of those districts which provides for the shortest overland connection between Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The international mediators seem to support continued Armenian control of the so-called Lachin corridor.