The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are ready to meet again soon and try to iron out their differences on a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh drafted by international mediators, it was announced on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a top French official made the announcement as they urged Yerevan and Baku to “give further careful consideration” to the proposed basic principles of resolving the Karabakh conflict.
In a joint statement during an OSCE ministerial meeting in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, they expressed “regret” at the conflicting parties’ failure so far to achieve a breakthrough in their drawn-out negotiations mediated by the United States, Russia and France, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The statement, which was also signed by Foreign Ministers Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan and Edward Nalbandian of Armenia, reiterated the mediating powers’ view that “there can be no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” It at the same time described as “unacceptable” the status quo in the unresolved dispute.
“They [Mammadyarov and Nalbandian] informed the Heads of Delegation of the Co-Chair countries that their Presidents are ready to meet again jointly in the near future under the auspices of the Co-Chair countries to continue their direct dialogue, building upon recent experience, on how to bring peace, stability, and prosperity to their peoples,” read the statement.
Mammadyarov and Nalbandian met in Vilnius late Monday in the presence of more low-level U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group. It was not clear if they also had a separate encounter with Clinton, Lavrov and France’s European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti on the sidelines of the OSCE conference.
President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev appeared to be very close to cutting a long-awaited peace deal at their most recent meeting hosted by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in Kazan, Russia last June. But contrary to the mediators’ expectations, they failed to do that.
Yerevan says Aliyev scuttled the agreement with last-minute objections to the latest version of the basic principles co-authored by the mediators. Azerbaijani officials have not explicitly denied that.
The Minsk Group co-chairs have since tried to salvage the peace process with a series of visits to the conflict zone. But there have been no indications yet that they may achieve decisive progress in the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in the months to come.
The envoys appear to be increasingly changing the focus of their diplomacy to the strengthening of the shaky ceasefire regime along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh. Deadly skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces deployed there are a regular occurrence, highlighting the risk of renewed large-scale hostilities.
The five-party statement issued in the Lithuanian capital called for “further efforts” to work out details of a mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations near Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The co-chairs proposed such a mechanism earlier this year. They said in October that the conflicting parties have agreed to it principle.