Armenian, Azeri Foreign Ministers Meet in Moscow

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met with Russian, French and American diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group in Moscow on Saturday, ahead of a much anticipated summit on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on Sunday.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammedyarov and the three co-chairs met in the Russian Foreign Ministry building alongside the OSCE’s Chairman-in-office for talks that were hurriedly scheduled after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly announced in Yerevan last week he would be hosting trilateral talks between his Armenian and Azeri counterparts.

The co-chairs could also meet Presidents Ilham Aliev and Serzh Sarkisian after their trilateral meeting with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev initiated the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit amid renewed international hopes for a near-term solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Russian president and other officials have expressed hope that Aliyev and Sarkisian will bridge their remaining differences on a framework peace accord proposed by the Minsk Group.

The Russian initiative has fuelled talk of Moscow seeking to sideline the West in the Karabakh peace process as part of its efforts to boost its influence in the South Caucasus after the recent war with Georgia.

The initiative was welcomed by the United States on Wednesday. "We are pleased by this initiative that Moscow is undertaking. We hope that the initiative succeeds. We are monitoring it very closely," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

“We hope that the meeting of the presidents will give yet another serious impetus to the acceleration of the negotiations,” Nalbandian told reporters Thursday during a press conference in Yerevan.

He said the success of the Moscow talks depends on whether Azerbaijan will embrace mutual compromise. The Armenian side is ready to make its share of the concessions, he said.

After Sunday’s meeting, President Sarkisian will head to France for talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy on the Karabakh conflict, he said.

Sarkisian said at the weekend that the Karabakh dispute can be resolved only if Azerbaijan recognizes the Karabakh Armenia’s’ “right to self-determination.” But Aliev insisted on Friday that Baku will never accept Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.

Nalbandian on Thursday also ruled out the possibility of Turkish mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that Turkey can help the OSCE Minsk Group in reaching a settlement of the conflict but cannot act as a direct mediator.

Turkish mediation in the Karabakh settlement process is “out of the question,” Nalbandian stressed, explaining that the most productive contribution Turkey can make to the settlement process is by opening its borders with Armenia and influencing Azerbaijan to “demonstrate a more constructive stance” in the negotiation process.

“We can find a settlement with Azerbaijan,” Nalbandian told the news conference. “That will be possible if Azerbaijan expresses political will and opts for an appropriate settlement, instead of taking disruptive steps in various international organizations and making parallel statemen’s.”

“Turkey could do something useful in this sense,” he said. “But it can by no means be a mediator in the talks.”

Since the Russian-Georgian conflict in August, Turkey has been pushing, with renewed zeal, for greater influence in the Caucasus, linking the normalization of its relations with Armenia to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict favoring Azerbaijan’s position.

Nalbandian said a settlement of the Karabakh conflict cannot be a precondition for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. He added that the normalization of ties between the two countries will benefit Armenia, Turkey and the entire region.

Turkey’s initiative to become more involved in the Karabakh conflict has been seen by analysts close to the region as an attempt to skirt the current format of negotiations within the OSCE Minsk, a sentiment further solidified by efforts to establish a platform for stability and cooperation to manage relations and conflicts in the Caucasus.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister welcomed Turkey’s initiative, but stopped short of endorsing the new Caucasus platform, explaining that “there are many questions regarding the format and mechanisms of the platform.”

He also reiterated Yerevan’s support for the Minsk Group negotiation format, explaining that “there is no need to search for a new format,” as it enjoys the support of the international community.

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