International mediators reportedly spoke of a real possibility of major progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks as they visited Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Stepanakert on Tuesday during their latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy. They went straight into talks with Bako Sahakian, the president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).
No details of the talks were made public. Sahakian was only quoted by his press office as reiterating that a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh dispute is impossible without the NKR’s “full-fledged” involvement in the negotiating process.
“We believe that Karabakh should return to this process at a certain stage because after all, it is the fate of people living here that will be decided,” Igor Popov, the Minsk Group’s Russian co-chair, told reporters afterwards. He said that could happen after Armenia and Azerbaijan make substantial progress towards bridging their differences on a framework peace accord put forward by the mediating troika.
Popov as well as Andrzej Kasprzyk, the head of an OSCE mission monitoring the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone, met on Wednesday with General Movses Hakobian, the commander of the Karabakh Armenian army. The Russian negotiator said before the meeting that it will focus on ways of preventing truce violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh.
In the meantime, James Warlick and Jacques Faure, the U.S. and French co-chairs, held a rare meeting with local civil security representatives. Among them was Gegham Baghdasarian, a veteran independent journalist heading the Stepanakert Press Club.
“As far as I understood, the negotiation process has been somewhat reinvigorated and the conflicting parties have expressed readiness to solve the problem,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The main message that we heard is that there seems to be mutual understanding and some progress can be made in the near future.”
The mediators’ reported optimism stems from a November 19 meeting of Presidents Serzh Sarkisian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan that was organized by them in Vienna. The two leaders made unusually positive evaluations of their first direct talks in almost two years. They pledged to meet again early next year.
The Minsk Group co-chairs met Aliyev and Sarkisian in Baku and Yerevan respectively before travelling to Karabakh. Preparations for the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit were reportedly high on the agenda of those talks.