NAGORNO-KARABAKH (RFE/RL) —President Serzh Sarkisian traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh on June 22 just two days after meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in St. Petersburg, Russia for talks positively assessed by both conflicting parties.
In a one-sentence statement, Sarkisian’s press office said nothing about the purpose of the “working visit” and issues on its agenda.
According to the Armenia’s Presidential Press Office, Sarkisian, President of Artsakh, Bako Sahakyan and second President Arkady Ghoukasyan “visited a range borderline sections in the republic’s southern wing, got acquainted on site with the course of military service and current situation.”
“On the same day Presidents of the two Armenian states held a consultation with the supreme command staff of the Karabakh Defense Army and discussed a wide range of issues concerning the army building,” the Press Office stated.
The newly appointed secretary of Sarkisian’s National Security Council, Armen Gevorgian, was in Stepanakert on Tuesday to meet with Sahakian. Sahakian’s office said they discussed Armenia’s and Karabakh’s “cooperation on issues pertaining to security.” No details were reported.
Sarkisian and Aliyev held trilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg just over a month after their previous encounter in Vienna that focused on the fallout from the April 2-5 heavy fighting around Karabakh.
In a joint statement with Putin, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents said they reached an “understanding” on issues hampering a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. They did not elaborate, indicating instead that they will meet again in the months ahead.
The St. Petersburg summit fueled media speculation that the two warring sides may have narrowed their differences on a framework peace accord jointly drafted by the United States, Russia and France. The so-called Basic Principles call for a gradual settlement that would start with Armenian withdrawal from districts around Karabakh proper and end in a referendum on the disputed territory’s status.
In remarks that could stoke that speculation, Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, claimed on Wednesday that the two leaders agreed “in principle” on a “phased” restoration of Azerbaijani control over seven districts that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. Karabakh’s status would be determined after the Armenian withdrawal, Mammadov told Azerbaijani television, according to the Trend news agency.
Official Yerevan was quick to deny those claims. “No agreement on the conflict’s resolution was reached at the Saint Petersburg summit,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in written comments.
Nalbandian said the main focus of the negotiation process now is confidence-building measures that would prevent renewed ceasefire violations along “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Baku must honor its pledges to allow such measures, including international investigations of armed incidents, he said.
“This would help to create appropriate conditions for the resumption of negotiations on the conflict’s resolution,” added Nalbandian.