Armenia, Azerbaijan Report More Progress On Karabakh

MINSK, Belarus (RFE/RL)–Armenia and Azerbaijan have reported further progress towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, following a meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev Tuesday. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who accompanied Kocharian on the Minsk trip, echoed Aliyev’s positive mood as he spoke to journalists on his return to Yerevan on Tuesday night. "They [the presidents] mainly concentrated on the issues in the document [put forward by international mediators] on which no agreement has been reached," he said. "I cannot say concretely whether progress was made or not, but both presidents assessed the meeting as positive in terms of atmosphere and constructive approaches."I think that the Armenian and Azeri presidents will analyze everything in detail within a few days and give precise instructions to the foreign ministers about their future work," added Oskanian. Kocharian declined to personally comment on the crucial negotiations that were held on the sidelines of a summit of ex-Soviet states and were seen as the last real chance to find a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute. His press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, said he has nothing to add to Oskanian’s statemen’s. Armenia’s defense minister Serge Sarkisian, also did not shed more light on the presidential meeting, saying that he was not yet informed about its results. Sarkisian reiterated instead that he is committed to achieving a "dignified peace" with Azerbaijan based on "mutual compromise," even if that means liberating most of the Armenian-controlled Azeri territories around Karabakh. "I have never specified whether we should surrender 15 meters, 20 meters or 500 kilometers [of land]," he told reporters on Wednesday. "That’s not important to me. The important thing is to have mutual compromise." Armenian withdrawal from at least six of the seven districts surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is one of the key elemen’s of the international mediators’ peace plan currently discussed by the sides to the conflict. Under that plan, the troop withdrawal would be followed by a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh. Aliyev and Kocharian failed to agree on the proposed peace deal during their previous face-to-face encounters earlier this year, all but dashing hopes for a resolution of the conflict before presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008. Armenia will also hold parliamentary elections next spring. Oskanian admitted that the unfolding election period will make it more difficult for the parties to cut an unpopular compromise deal, but insisted that it "will not interrupt" the negotiating process. He would not say if there is any chance of an Armenian-Azeri accord signed before the 2007 polls. "I can say that we are already approaching the final phase of negotiations," Aliyev told Azeri state television, commenting on his talks with Kocharian. In remarks broadcast on Wednesday, Aliyev said the two leaders reached agreement on unspecified "several issues" that have precluded the signing of a framework peace accord so far. "But there are still contentious issues, and the two presidents spoke about them," he added without elaborating. Reports in the Russian press said this week that the Armenian and Azeri leaders might meet again on the fringes of another CIS summit expected to take place in Moscow early next month. Kocharian’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the information.

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