The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Paris on Saturday for the first time since an international scandal sparked by the release from prison of an Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death an Armenian colleague in Hungary.
Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov will resume their talks on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
The talks were effectively frozen after the Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov was released from a Hungarian prison and given a hero’s welcome in Azerbaijan on August 31. The Armenian government reacted furiously to the development and faced domestic calls to pull out of the Karabakh peace process.
The Minsk Group co-chairs held separate crisis talks with Nalbandian and Mammadyarov in Paris just days after Safarov was pardoned and promoted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. In an ensuing joint statement, they expressed “deep concern” at the pardon, saying that it undermined their efforts to broker a peaceful settlement.
The two ministers also met separately with the co-chairs when they visited New York later in September to attend a session of the UN General Assembly. Nalbandian is understood to have refused a face-to-face encounter with Mammadyarov.
Azerbaijan rejected the international criticism of Safarov’s release and glorification. One of Mammadyarov’s deputies, Araz Azimov, also accused the mediating powers late last month of exploiting the affair to justify the deadlock in the Karabakh peace process.
Chances for a near-term breakthrough in the protracted negotiating process were slim even before the scandal. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are due to hold presidential elections next year. Accordingly, expectations from the Paris meeting are not high.
A spokesman for Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said on Friday that no progress should be anticipated in the talks because of the “disgraceful” Safarov affair. Davit Babayan accused Baku of seeking to torpedo the peace process and urged the mediators to “clearly state that any attempt at a forcible solution to the conflict is simply unacceptable.”