By Emil Danielyan
International mediators on Thursday gave a positive assessment of the latest meeting between Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents and expressed hope that the two sides will seal a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh “in the nearest future.”
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliev met in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group and in a tête-à-tête format in Zurich on Wednesday.
“The Co-Chairs explored with the two Presidents their thoughts on how to finalize the Basic Principles on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, proceeding from the proposal presented to the sides at the OSCE Ministerial Conference in Madrid in November 2007,” read a statement issued by them the next day.
“The Co-Chairs agreed to work with the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] Foreign Ministers on elaborating proposals for the consideration of the two Presidents on the most important remaining differences between the sides existing within the framework of the Basic Principles,” the mediating troika said. “The Co-Chairs hope the parties will be able to bridge these remaining differences in the nearest future to secure a peace agreement that is far better for all parties than the status quo.”
The chief U.S. negotiator, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, was quoted by the Azerbaijani Trend news agency as saying that Aliev and Sarkisian made progress on “several key elements” of the proposed framework peace deal. He did not elaborate.
Sarkisian’s office described the Zurich talks as “positive and constructive.” It said the Minsk Group co-chairs will again visit Baku and Yerevan soon in an attempt to help the conflicting parties overcome their remaining disagreements.
Aliev’s assessment of the talks seemed less positive. "There were no breakthroughs, just discussion of the different difficult issues," Azerbaijani presidential spokesman Azer Gasymov said, according to the Associated Press.
According to Trend, Bryza said the co-chairs will visit the conflict zone next month. In his words, they will try to “keep up the positive momentum” in the negotiating process.
The principles in question call for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would culminate in a referendum of self-determination in the Armenian-controlled disputed territory. It also envisages the liberation of at least six of the seven Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
The conflicting parties have disagreed, at least until now, on key details of the proposed referendum as well as the timetable for Armenian troop withdrawal from the occupied territories. They continue to take diametrically opposite positions in public, with Baku saying that it will never agree to the loss of Karabakh and the Armenians ruling out the territory’s return under Azerbaijani rule.