Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have agreed to meet soon for further talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, international mediators said on Friday.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group made the announcement in a joint statement issued more than a week after they held talks with Pashinian and Aliyev in Yerevan and Baku. They said they discussed “preparations for a meeting of the leaders in the near future, including possible topics for discussion.”
“The leaders accepted the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ proposal to meet soon under their auspices,” added the statement. It gave no dates.
Pashinian’s most recent meeting with Aliyev took place on January 22 on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It came a week after fresh negotiations held by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris. According to the mediators, the ministers acknowledged the need for “taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace.”
Visiting neighboring Iran this week, Pashinian announced that another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit will likely be held “soon.” “In essence, it is going to be a meeting without an agenda,” he told members of the Armenian community of Tehran.
Pashinian sounded pessimistic about chances of decisive progress towards a Karabakh settlement. He again declared that he cannot “speak on behalf of Karabakh” in the negotiating process.
The Armenian leader also said that Azerbaijan, not Armenia, must be the first to tell the international community whether it is prepared for a compromise peace accord because it regularly threatens a military solution to the Karabakh conflict.
In what may have been a related development, the influential head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), Artur Vanetsian, seemed to rule out on Thursday major concessions to Baku.
Vanetsian made a point of travelling, together with Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, to a formerly Azerbaijani-populated area south of Karabakh. He attended a meeting of Karabakh officials that discussed their plans to build a new settlement and cultivate more agricultural land in the area bordering Iran.
“As a result of implementing this project we will send a clear message to the Armenian people and the outside world to the effect that we do not intend to give back a single inch of land,” Vanetsian said at that meeting.
Pashinian similarly stated on January 30 that the Armenian side will not agree to make territorial concessions Azerbaijan in return for mere peace in the region. “We can’t even discuss the lands-for-peace formula,” he said.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry criticized those remarks, saying that “withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied Azerbaijani territories” has long been at the heart of the peace process mediated by the United States, Russia and France.
Over the past decade, the mediating powers have advanced a framework accord calling for the liberation of virtually all districts around Karabakh that were occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. In return, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status in a future referendum.