Armenian and Azeri Presidents End Talks without Reaching Agreement

(BBC/RFE/RL)–Two days of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a draft of the Karabagh conflict settlement have ended without agreement–US mediator Steven Mann said.

France hosted the high-profile talks between Armenia’s Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev.

The talks at Rambouillet chateau followed mediation by France–the United States–and Russia.

French President Jacques Chirac held separate talks with the Armenian and Azeri leaders before they met face-to-face on Friday.

Mann said he and the other two co-chairs–Bernard Fassier of France and Yury Merzlyakov of Russia–will travel to Brussels on Monday to brief the OSCE’s current chairman-in-office–Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht–on the failed discussions. They will then meet in Washington in early March to decide "in which direction we should move," added Mann.

According to RFE/RL–the two parties could not reach an agreement over two key points relating to Karabagh’s future status and a timeframe for Armenian withdrawal from Kelbajar–a mountainous district sandwiched between Karabagh and Armenia proper.

Azeri Prime Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said–however–that agreement was reached on seven other unspecified points of the framework accord.

A key issue between the two sides is the holding of a referendum by the territory’s population–as a matter of self-determination. Karabagh’s administration has said it will not accept any deal reached without its direct participation.

The idea of holding such a referendum in Karabagh was at the heart of the peace formula discussed by the conflicting parties over the past year–and the Azeri side reportedly accepted it in principle.

But the scope for compromise is severely limited by public opinion in both countries–which firmly opposes any concessions.

Nevertheless–a senior US State Department official said on Thursday that the Rambouillet talks amounted to "the most important meeting in at least five years regarding this conflict."

Kocharian’s spokesman–Victor Soghomonian said: "There is an agreement to continue negotiations–which is positive in itself."

The next few weeks should clarify whether the mediators can salvage the formula currently under discussion or if they will have to restart the peace process from the beginning.


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