International mediators crossed into Nagorno-Karabakh through the heavily fortified Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” on Wednesday in a fresh round of regional shuttle diplomacy aimed at kick-starting the stalled peace process.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group walked through a section of the frontline east of Karabakh the day after meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku. It was temporarily cleared of land mines on the occasion.
The diplomats held talks with Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership in Stepanakert later on Wednesday. They are due to proceed to Yerevan on Thursday.
Few details of the talks were made public. Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair, said the mediating troika discussed in Baku and Stepanakert recent ceasefire violations in the conflict zone that have fuelled more concerns about a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war. He also indicated that the conflicting parties continue to disagree on a mechanism for joint investigations of such skirmishes which is proposed by the mediators.
The press office of Karabakh President Bako Sahakian said he urged the Minsk Group co-chairs to continue trying to “bring Azerbaijan onto a constructive path.” Sahakian also expressed hope that they will restore the “full-fledged format” of peace talks, a clear reference to the Karabakh Armenians’ direct involvement in them.
Popov said that this could happen at later stages of the negotiating process. “I can presume that when substantive work on the peace accord starts then the format of negotiators may be expanded,” he told reporters after the meeting with Sahakian.
It was not clear if Popov and his American and French colleagues presented new proposals on helping the parties overcome their differences on the Basic Principles of the Karabakh conflict’s resolution advanced by the three mediating powers.
In a joint statement issued on June 19, the U.S., Russian and French presidents said the parties should iron out those disagreements without “further delay.” They also urged both sides to “refrain from maximalist positions in the negotiations, respect the 1994 ceasefire agreement, and abstain from hostile rhetoric that increases tension.”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that its armed forces have begun large-scale exercises near unspecified sections of the frontline. News agencies quoted the Defense Ministry in Baku as saying that the exercises are involving the use of “modern hardware and weaponry.”