YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–International mediators on Thursday gave a positive assessment of the latest meeting between Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents and expressed hope that the two sides will seal a framework peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh “in the nearest future.”
Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev met in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group and in a one-to-one format in Zurich on Wednesday. They made no public statement after the meeting. Both presidents left for Davos immediately after their talks to participate in the World Economic Forum.
“The Co-Chairs explored with the two Presidents their thoughts on how to finalize the Basic Principles on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, proceeding from the proposal presented to the sides at the OSCE Ministerial Conference in Madrid in November 2007,” the statement issued by them said.
“The Co-Chairs agreed to work with the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] Foreign Ministers on elaborating proposals for the consideration of the two Presidents on the most important remaining differences between the sides existing within the framework of the Basic Principles,” the mediating troika said. “The Co-Chairs hope the parties will be able to bridge these remaining differences in the nearest future to secure a peace agreement that is far better for all parties than the status quo.”
The chief U.S. negotiator, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, was quoted by the Azerbaijani Trend news agency as saying that Aliyev and Sarkisian made progress on “several key elemen’s” of the proposed framework peace deal. He did not elaborate.
Sarkisian’s office described the Zurich talks as “positive and constructive.” It said said Aliyev and Sarkisian instructed their foreign ministers, who met in the Swiss city on Tuesday, to continue the negotiating process.
Aliyev’s assessment of the talks seemed less positive. "There were no breakthroughs, just discussion of the different difficult issues," Azerbaijani presidential spokesman Azer Gasymov said, according to the Associated Press.
According to Trend, Bryza said the co-chairs will visit the conflict zone next month. In his words, they will try to “keep up the positive momentum” in the negotiating process.
The principles in question call for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would culminate in a referendum of self-determination in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. It also envisages the transfer to Azerbaijani control of at least six of the seven historic Armenian districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly liberated by Karabakh’s indigenous Armenian population during the 1991-1994 war.
The conflicting parties have disagreed, at least until now, on key details of the proposed referendum as well as the timetable for Armenian troop withdrawal from the territories. They continue to take diametrically opposite positions in public, with Baku saying that it will never agree to the loss of Karabakh and the Armenia’s ruling out the territory’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
It was also agreed during their talks that the Minsk Group co-chairs will again visit Baku and Yerevan soon in an attempt to help the conflicting parties overcome their remaining disagreemen’s on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the mediators, added the statement.
The mediators already toured the conflict zone last week. They said they hope to broker a framework peace accord on Karabakh in the first half of this year. This is the third meeting between the two leaders since Sarkisian became president early last year.
The meeting Wednesday came a day after reports indicating a cease-fire violation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact east of Nagorno-Karabakh. The shooting, which broke out near the Armenian town of Aghdam, resulted in three deaths and several injuries.
Ceasefire violations appear to have become more frequent last year prompting serious concern from foreign powers seeking to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. In a joint statement issued in early December, top diplomats from the United States, Russia and France called on the conflicting parties to bolster the ceasefire regime by pulling back snipers from their frontline positions.