Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev met there on the sidelines of a European Union summit that offered their nations as well as four other former Soviet republics the possibility to forge closer ties with the EU. The meeting began in the presence of their foreign ministers and the American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
Aliyev and Sarkisian then spoke one on one for more than two hours. Neither leader made any public statements afterward, leaving it to the three mediators to present the results of the talks to journalists. Matthew Bryza, the chief U.S. negotiator, said the presidents made “significant progress” toward finalizing a framework peace agreement along the lines of the basic principles put forward by the co-chairs.
“Presidents Aliyev and Sarkisian were able … to reduce their differences on our basic principles and generally agree on the basic ideas that they came here to discuss,” Bryza said. “We had some specific ideas and elements of the basic principles we are trying to finalize and they do agree on the basic approach.”
“We plan in coming days and weeks to work together with the foreign ministers to finalize the details of these key remaining concepts within the basic principles,” added the diplomat.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Bryza, who is also U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said there was a “conceptual breakthrough.”
“You have to have conceptual breakthroughs and then technical breakthroughs. So, conceptually I would say, we pretty much had that today. Now we have to create the technical breakthroughs,” Bryza said.
Bryza dismissed speculation that competing interests between Russia and the United States were influencing the negotiations.
The Minsk Group’s Russian co-chairman Yuri Merzlyakov said Aliyev and Sarkisian will likely meet again in Saint-Petersburg, Russia early next month. The two leaders held their first face-to-face talks there in June last year.
Merzlyakov added that before the St. Petersburg meeting, the mediators will meet with the Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers and visit the region to arrange the meeting of the presidents.
He also hinted at the possibility of having a future meeting between the three presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries (the US, Russia, and France) around the issue.
“We have been working on this idea for a long time. But it is very difficult to bring together three presidents. But if there is an opportunity to bring together the presidents of three co-chairing countries within the framework of a meeting, we will surely try to use this opportunity,” he said.
In response to a question from the Azeri APA news agency on whether Armenia and Azerbaijan can trust Russia since its recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence last year, Merzlyakov said that the Karabakh situation was “quite different.”
Asked about the compromises of the parties, the co-chairs said no one wants to make compromises. “We are preparing a breakthrough,” said Bernard Fassier, the group’s French co-chair. “We are in a position to identify what could be the break, but we are not yet through. So we need to progress and we are expecting to realize that in the following weeks.”
Fassier, Bryza and Merzlyakov, refused to disclose what specifically Aliyev and Sarkisian have agreed on.
In a written statement, Sarkisian’s office confirmed that the two presidents have narrowed their differences over “some points” of the proposed settlement. It said they instructed their foreign ministers to continue to work on its details with the mediators and to prepare for another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul will also meet separately Aliyev and Sarkisian on the sidelines of the summit later in the day.
Holding a press conference in the Turkish capital Ankara prior to his departure for Prague, Gul ruled out the possibility of a trilateral meeting between the three presidents.