The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan appear have made no progress during their latest face-to-face negotiations that were held in Switzerland on Saturday following a fresh upsurge of fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh.
“I can again conclude that unfortunately the approaches of the parties are not close to each other or do not converge,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told reporters after the two-hour talks. He said Baku has no “intention to push this process forward.”
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev talked tete-a-tete in the Swiss capital Bern for more than an hour before being joined by their foreign ministers and the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. Neither president made any public statements afterwards.
“The Presidents discussed recent violence and expressed particular concern about casualties, including civilians, caused by the use of heavy weapons,” the co-chairs said in an ensuing joint statement. “The Presidents supported the Co-Chairs' ongoing work on proposals regarding measures to reduce the risk of violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border, including an investigation mechanism.”
“The Presidents confirmed their readiness to continue engagement on proposals regarding a settlement currently under negotiation,” they added vaguely.
James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair, tweeted separately that the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit “concluded with a toast to 2016 to work towards a negotiated settlement.”
“The presidents did not raise toasts,” countered Nalbandian. “They conducted serious negotiations.”
Nalbandian indicated that Azerbaijan continues to oppose the idea of international investigations of ceasefire violations in the Karabakh conflict zone, which is advanced by the mediators and backed by the Armenian side. He linked Baku’s stance with recent days’ sharp escalation of fighting along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” which has left several soldiers dead on both sides.
The Armenian military suffered its latest combat casualty, a soldier named Sidar Aloyan, just a few hours before the start of the Bern summit. Underlining the heightened tensions, Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian travelled to the Karabakh frontline and inspected it overnight together with the commander of the Karabakh Armenian army, General Levon Mnatsakanian. A statement by the army said Ohanian discussed its ongoing efforts to “counter the enemy’s assaults in a more targeted manner.”
Nalbandian stood by Yerevan’s and Stepanakert’s claims that Baku deliberately heightened tensions on the frontline on the eve of the latest Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting in a bid to clinch major concessions from the Armenians and the international mediators. “Azerbaijan is not giving up its illusion that it can exploit the use of force, the escalation of the situation as a negotiating tool,” he said in Bern.
“This policy has not given and will not give Azerbaijan any advantage,” added the Armenian minister.
Aliyev’s aides and other Azerbaijani officials did not comment on the Bern talks by the end of the day. The Foreign Ministry in Baku claimed on Friday that the Armenians themselves are violating the ceasefire in order to undermine the peace process and cement the status quo.