Sarkisian, Aliev Hold Talks

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev

SAINT PETERSBURG (Combined Sources)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan held what officials described as "constructive" talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the Russian city of Saint-Petersburg on Friday.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and his recently elected Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, met for the first time on the sidelines of a summit of former Soviet states. International mediators hoped that they would kick-start the Karabakh peace process, which has been stalled since last year.

The two leaders started and ended the talks in the presence of their foreign ministers and the US, Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. According to Sarkisian’s office, the talks took place in a face-to-face format for one hour. It said Foreign Ministers Eduard Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov met separately both before and after the presidents’ meeting.

"The Armenian side finds constructive the results of the first Sarkisian-Aliev meeting held in Saint-Petersburg," the Armenian president’s press office said in a statement. It said the two leaders presented their views on how to resolve the conflict and instructed their ministers to continue the negotiation process mediated by the Minsk Group co-chairs.

According to the statement, it was also agreed that the co-chairs will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan again by the end of this month in an effort to further narrow the parties’ differences over a framework peace accord put forward by the mediators last November.

Both Nalbandian and Mammadyarov said the talks were "constructive" and "positive" as they spoke with journalists in Saint Petersburg. The Minsk Group’s US co-chair, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, also appeared to be satisfied with the meeting.

"Judging from what the presidents have just told us, the mood was positive and constructive," Bryza told RFE/RL by phone. "The two presidents decided to continue the process within the framework of the Minsk Group and the proposals which we made in Madrid [in November 2007.]"

Bryza did not rule out the possibility of another Aliev-Sarkisian encounter in the coming months. "It depends on how much progress the foreign ministers will make with the help of the co-chairs," he said.

In related news, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Sheikh-Attar said Friday that his country was ready to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.

Speaking at a press conference in Azerbaijan, Sheikh-Attar said if the parties concerned in the dispute agree, Iran would be willing to mediate in the Karabakh conflict.

He said Iran’supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, adding his country is keen to boost ties with Azerbaijan in political, economic and cultural arenas. Sheikh-Attar was in Baku for official talks regarding his country’s bid to join the Nabucco pipeline project, which would bring natural gas from Central Asia into Europe.

The pipeline project, valued at $12.9 billion, would link the European market with the energy-rich producing nations of central Asian countries via Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Hungry, Romania and Austria.

"Iran was a mediator in the resolution of Nagorno Karabakh conflict in the past. Unfortunately, our country has been excluded from this mission," Sheikh-Attar said at the press.

Though he expressed his dissatisfaction with the OSCE Minsk Group’s activity, he stated that his country backs the talks within this framework.

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