The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Vienna on Tuesday for what will be their first face-to-face talks on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in nearly two years.
The date and venue of the meeting was officially announced by President Serzh Sarkisian’s office and the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Monday. The statements gave no details of its agenda.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the Minsk Group arranged the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit during their most recent tour of the conflict zone early this month. They hope that Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev will revive a peace process that has been effectively deadlocked for the past two years.
The United States seems particularly hopeful about the summit. President Barack Obama urged Aliyev and Sarkisian to meet soon in separate letters sent to them in September. In another message sent to Aliyev on November 7, Obama spoke of a “historic opportunity to find a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Nevertheless, few observers expect major progress at the Vienna talks. The conflicting parties continue to disagree on key details of the Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the mediators. There has also been no letup in their mutual threats and recriminations.
Earlier on Monday, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, accused Azerbaijan of torpedoing the peace process ahead of the summit. Sharmazanov cited a weekend statement by the Armenian Defense Ministry saying that Azerbaijani troops opened “intense” fire at border villages in Armenia’s northern Tavush province.
The statement said they specifically targeted civilian cars passing through one of those villages, Vazashen. No casualties were reported. There was no official reaction to the reported shooting from the Azerbaijani side.
Sarkisian will fly to Vienna just days after visiting Karabakh, inspecting Armenian frontline positions around the disputed territory and watching exercises held by Karabakh Armenian forces.
Sarkisian’s most recent meeting with Aliyev, mediated by Russia, took place in the Russian city of Sochi in January 2012. The two presidents pledged at the time to intensify their search for a mutually acceptable peace deal. However, no progress has been made in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks since then.