Aliyev Kocharian Vague on Prospects of Karabagh Deal

GENEVA (RFE/RL)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan shed no light on the future of the deadlocked Karabagh peace process after what they described as "very frank" talks held in Geneva on Thursday.

Reports said President Robert Kocharian and his recently elected Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev–smiled and appeared relaxed as they stood together after their first-ever meeting. The two leaders told reporters that it largely amounted to "an exchange of opinions" about how to reinvigorate the internationally sponsored peace talks that were put on hold ahead of this year’s presidential elections in their countries.

Armenian Public Television quoted Kocharian as saying that he and Aliyev "analyzed the new situation" in the zone of conflict but did not discuss specific peace plans. Kocharian’s spokesman’said later in the day that the president is "on the whole satisfied" with the talks that began in the presence of the American–French–and Russian mediators–then continued one-on-one.

Aliyev reportedly said that the very fact of the meeting is positive and that the two presidents are "ready to continue the dialogue." He said such meetings carry "an element of continuity," apparently referring to a flurry of face-to-face encounters between his father and predecessor Heydar Aliyev and Kocharian from 1999 through 2002.

On Thursday–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said–"We expect positive signals from Azerbaijan’s president today to continue negotiations on the existing basis. In that case–we will be able to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue in 2004 and there will be no deliberate dragging of feet on our part."

Azerbaijan–however–denies the existence of any formal agreemen’s–and its Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said after the Geneva talks that the parties may launch a new peace process. "We do not exclude starting from scratch–because Ilham Aliyev is a new president. He may have some new ideas," Guliev was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. He did not elaborate.

The meeting took place at a hotel on the sidelines of a United Nations conference on information technology which began its work in Geneva on Wednesday.

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