Armenian Azeri Presidents to Meet in France for Crucial Karabagh Summit

(Combined Sources)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov concluded two days of talks on Karabagh conflict late Thursday and ascertained the agenda of the upcoming meeting of their presidents.

Oskanian said Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan will meet in France early next month to try to take a decisive step towards the resolution of the Karabagh conflict. "It was an important meeting–but let’s not overly exaggerate it because its purpose was to prepare the presidents’ next meeting which most probably will take place during the first half of February," he said from London. "In that sense–the meeting served its purpose because we basically made our positions clear to each other.

"Now we will go back to our capitals and communicate all this to our presidents–and the presidents will attend that meeting better prepared–knowing what to expect and what the position of the other side is."

Mammadyarov was also reportedly satisfied with the London talks mediated by the French–Russian and American co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Azeri media quoted him as describing them as "intensive and meaningful."

According to Oskanian–the talks focused on the basic principles of a Karabagh settlement that are contained in a "half-page text" put forward by the mediators. "It serves as a guideline for talks between the ministers and also the presidents. Once the principles have been agreed to–they could serve as a basis for a more detailed document," he said.

"We do have closer positions on some of those principles–but on some [other principles] our positions are still far apart," Oskanian added without elaborating. "We’ve got to continue to work and there is always the hope that during the presidents’ meeting we will have progress on whatever the ministers couldn’t achieve."

He also added that this is not a kind of a document to be signed by the presidents at their upcoming meeting.

Oskanian said France has offered to host the Armenian-Azeri summit on its soil. "The venue and the exact date of the meeting will be finalized by the French side in the coming days," he said.

French President Jacques Chirac had already arranged a key meeting between Kocharian and Ilham’s late father and predecessor Heydar in Paris in March 2001. The two men reportedly agreed on the main points of a Karabagh peace deal which Armenian officials say was finalized during an ensued peace conference in Florida. The deal eventually fell through–however.

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