The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to work out safeguards against ceasefire violations around Nagorno-Karabakh and resume their search for a compromise peace deal during talks in Vienna mediated by the United States, Russia and France late on Monday.
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev will meet again as early as next month in an attempt to revive the Karabakh peace process, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and France’s State Secretary for Europe Affairs Harlem Desir said after co-hosting the talks.
“The Presidents reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict,” read a joint statement issued by them. “To reduce the risk of further violence, they agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism.”
“The Presidents also agreed to the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office,” it said, referring to a small multinational team monitoring the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators have for years pressed the conflicting sides to accept these confidence-building measures, hoping to reverse a steady increase in the intensity and frequency of armed incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines. They have been backed by the Armenian side but effectively rejected by Azerbaijan until recently. The latter has claimed that the proposed measures would only cement the status quo favorable to the Armenians.
Following the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting in and around Karabakh, Yerevan insisted on these safeguards -- and OSCE investigations of truce violations in particular -- as a precondition for restarting talks with Baku. The mediating powers agreed that the shaky ceasefire regime needs to be urgently bolstered in order to avert another dangerous escalation of the Karabakh conflict. The issue was apparently the main focus of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit that began immediately after Kerry’s separate talks with Sarkisian and Aliyev.
Speaking to Russian reporters after the late-night summit, Lavrov said the OSCE will now “formulate concrete steps allowing investigations of armed incidents on the Line of Contact.”
The joint statement by Kerry, Lavrov and Desir also announced: “The Presidents agreed on a next round of talks, to be held in June at a place to be mutually agreed, with an aim to resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement.”
In Lavrov’s words, the mediators now hope to not only ease tensions on the frontlines but also kick-start the peace process. “We aim to … start moving forward towards a complete settlement of the conflict,” he said. “Given the fairly tense situation between the parties, that will probably have to be done gradually.
“There are possibilities of agreeing the parameters of the first phase of the settlement. They were formulated within the framework of Russian mediation that was in tune with the overall approaches of the [OSCE Minsk Group] co-chairs and received the backing of our American and French partners.”
The Russian minister alluded to the Basic Principles of the conflict’s resolution, which were first put forward by the mediators in 2007 and have been repeatedly modified by them since then.
The proposed framework peace accord calls for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all districts around Karabakh before a future referendum on Karabakh’s status. The vote would enable the disputed territory’s predominantly Armenian population to gain international recognition of its de facto secession from Azerbaijan.
Aliyev and Sarkisian came close to cutting a peace deal based on this formula at a 2011 summit in Kazan that was hosted by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov confirmed last month “Armenia didn’t reject the Kazan document.”
“We have reason to think that Armenian and Azerbaijani negotiators are intent on formulating compromises,” Lavrov said in Vienna on Monday. “We are going to facilitate that in every possible way.”
Neither Aliyev nor Sarkisian talked to the press after the summit.