Armenian Azeri Presidents to Meet Thursday over Karabagh Peace

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Yerevan officially announced on Wednesday that President Robert Kocharian and his recently elected Azerbaijani counterpart–Ilham Aliyev will meet in Geneva on Thursday for their first-ever talks on the resolution to the Mountainous Karabagh conflict–as recently suggested by international mediators.

The talks will come only days after a visit to Armenia–Azerbaijan–and Karabagh by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–a team of French–Russian–and US diplomats who urged the parties to discuss their confidential "new ideas" on resolving the dispute. They said that a face-to-face discussion between Kocharian and Aliyev will help them draft a formal peace plan that could break the decade-long deadlock in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.

In announcing the news of the talks–the Armenian president’s press secretary Ashot Kocharian–said the two leaders will explore ways of reinvigorating the peace process–as put forth by the mediators.

The official purpose of Kocharian’s and Aliyev’s visit to Geneva is to attend a high-level global conference on information technology which opened on Wednesday.

The Azerbaijani Turan news agency reported earlier in the day that the Minsk Group was also due in Geneva. Kocharian’s spokesman–however–refused to confirm or deny this.

Over the weekend–the co-chairs said that the end of the one-year period of successive elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan opens a new window of opportunity for a solution to the Karabagh conflict based on mutual compromise. They made it clear that both sides should largely draw on–and possibly combine–various peace formulas already on the negotiating table.

"We do not want to–in principle–surprise the presidents with new proposals which have ideas that have not been discussed previously," Rudolf Perina–the chief US envoy–told reporters in Yerevan. "We have to first discuss ideas in a very informal sense to see if it is possible to develop new concrete proposals–and that is the stage in which we are at presently."

The Geneva meeting will allow Kocharian to determine Aliyev’s position on Karabagh peace. The 42-year-old Aliyev–who inherited power from his ailing father Heydar in a disputed presidential election last October–lacks political experience and–as some commentators believe–the muscle to sell an unpopular deal to the domestic political elite. Ilham has ruled out major concessions to the Armenian side in his public pronouncemen’s so far.

Kocharian–in the meantime–met with Aliyev Sr. nearly two dozen times between 1999 and 2002. The two men were reportedly close to hammering out a peace accord in the spring of 2001. Their last bilateral encounter took place in August 2002.

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