By Emil Danielyan
Armenia and Azerbaijan have made contradictory statements on their presidents’ weekend meeting in Russia which international mediators hoped will mark a turning point in their protracted search for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev did not speak to journalists after their talks in the Russian city of Kazan on Saturday and it is not known if they reached any formal or informal agreements on Karabakh. Reports from Kazan said the two leaders conferred in a tête-à-tête format for an hour before being joined by French, Russian and U.S. diplomats spearheading the peace process.
Kocharian, according to his spokesman Victor Soghomonian, came away satisfied from the meeting held on the sidelines of a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States. “The Armenian side assesses the meeting in Kazan positively and considers it a positive development in the negotiating process,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Soghomonian as saying.
The official added that Foreign Ministers Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan and Vartan Oskanian of Armenia will continue that process “based on the agreements reached in Kazan.” He did not say what those agreements are.
“In general, I cannot say that there has been any major progress or breakthrough,” Mammadyarov said for his part, according to the Azerbaijani ANS television. “We did not reach any agreement.”
“I think that we, both Armenia and Azerbaijan, need a couple of weeks to analyze the thoughts voiced by the two sides and think what the results may be and whether we are prepared for any progress or not,” he added.
Mammadyarov and Oskanian held talks in Moscow earlier in the week to prepare for the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit and appeared satisfied with their results. Highlighting the importance of the Kazan meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Aliev and Kocharian on Thursday to urge them to make mutual concessions that will pave the way for a Karabakh peace deal.
Diplomatic sources in Yerevan told RFE/RL last month that the parties have already agreed on the key points of a peace deal that could be formalized as early as this year or at the beginning of next. They said it is based on the idea of a referendum in which the Karabakh Armenians will decide whether they want to be independent, become a part of Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule. Speaking to RFE/RL in Moscow last week, Mammadyarov admitted that such a peace formula is being discussed by the parties.
Regional observers believe that Aliev and Kocharian will not announce any compromise deals until November which will see parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and a constitutional referendum in Armenia. It is widely assumed that opposition groups in both countries would exploit unpopular concessions on Karabakh in their struggle against the ruling regimes.
The Karabakh peace process has always been highly confidential. Kocharian and Aliev’s late predecessor and father Heydar, for example, did not announce any agreements after a meeting in Paris in March 2001. But Armenian officials claimed afterward that the two presidents agreed on the key principles of a peace accord that nearly ended the bitter dispute.