After recent meetings of their presidents, Armenia and Azerbaijan are now closer to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict than ever before, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a visit to Baku on Tuesday.
“We have grounds to think that this time around we are moving much closer to the prospect of success than we did before,” he told a joint news conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov.
In remarks publicized by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov described as “very useful” his talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held on Monday evening. “This will help us move forward in implementing the understanding reached by the presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan at their meeting in Saint Petersburg on June 20,” he said.
Mammadyarov echoed Lavrov’s cautious optimism. The TASS news agency quoted him as saying the Azerbaijani leadership hopes that “the intensification of the negotiation process” will yield a breakthrough.
In a joint statement issued after the Saint Petersburg summit, the three presidents said Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian reached common ground on unspecified “issues” hampering a peace accord on Karabakh. It is not clear whether they referred only to measures to strengthen the ceasefire around Karabakh or also a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.
Lavrov refused to go into details, saying that Aliyev, Sarkisian and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed not to publicize them for now.
In a further indication of progress in the protracted peace process, Putin telephone U.S. President Barack Obama on July 6 to brief him on the Saint Petersburg talks. According to the White House, Obama expressed readiness to “intensify” Washington’s joint efforts with Russia and France to broker an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Thursday. Kerry held separate talks with Aliyev and Sarkisian late last week on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Warsaw.
The United States, Russia and France have co-chaired the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh since the late 1990s. French President Francois Hollande has reportedly offered to host the next Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting expected later this year.
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian indicated on Monday that Yerevan continues to regard a framework accord advanced by the U.S., Russian and French mediators over the past decade as the basis for the conflict’s resolution. He singled out a key element of the mediators’ so-called Basic Principles stipulating that Karabakh’s status will be determined by its predominantly Armenian population in a future referendum.
In that context, Kocharian brushed aside Aliyev’s recent calls for a “phased” settlement that could only give Karabakh the status of an autonomous region in Azerbaijan.
Aliyev and Sarkisian most recently came close to agreeing on the Basic Principles at a 2011 meeting held in Kazan, Russia. Armenian and Russian officials have said that Aliyev scuttled the deal with last-minute additional concessions demanded from the Armenian side.
It is not yet clear whether Russia or the two other mediating powers have made major changes in the Kazan document in recent months. They ramped up their peace efforts following the April 2-5 heavy fighting around Karabakh which nearly escalated into an all-out Armenian-Azerbaijani war.