Kocharian, Aliyev Hold New Talks on Karabakh

MINSK, Belarus (RFE/RL)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in the Belarusian capital Minsk late Tuesday for crucial peace talks which international mediators hoped will produce a breakthrough in their long-running efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev came face to face for a third time in less than a year on the sidelines of a summit of former Soviet republics making up the Commonwealth of Independent States. An Armenian diplomatic source told RFE/RL that the talks, held at the Russian embassy in Belarus, began in the presence of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht. French, Russian and US diplomats co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group were also in attendance before the two leaders continued their discussions in a tete-a-tete format, the source said. Kocharian’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, was quoted by the Russian Regnum news agency as saying that no statemen’s are likely to be made after the talks. The mediators have indicated that failure to cut a framework peace deal now would keep the conflict unresolved at least until 2009. They arranged the latest Armenian-Azeri summit during a visit to Baku and Yerevan last week. It followed a series of negotiations between the foreign ministers of the two South Caucasus states. Those talks reportedly centered on what the Minsk Group co-chairs call "complementary elemen’s" to their existing peace plan that was discussed by Aliyev and Kocharian during their two previous encounters earlier this year. The two men failed to reach any far-reaching agreemen’s, contrary to unusually high expectations of a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process. The Minsk Group plan calls for a gradual resolution of the dispute that would lead to Armenian withdrawal from the liberated territories surrounding Karabakh and culminate in a referendum on the disputed territory’s status. Officials in Yerevan have said the peace formula is largely acceptable to the Armenian side. Official Baku’s position on the issue is more ambiguous, with Aliyev repeatedly stating that he will never recognize Karabakh’s secession from Soviet Azerbaijan. The unpublicized "complementary elemen’s" are aimed at helping the parties bridge their differences. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov indicated after their recent talks that they managed to make further progress towards that goal. However, Kocharian sought to cool fresh talk of Karabakh peace during a visit to Germany earlier this month, saying that he is not optimistic about the success of the Minsk meeting.

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