YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to meet again on May 7 to try to speed up the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, international mediators said on Monday, ending yet another round of regional shuttle diplomacy.
The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group spoke to journalists after holding talks in Yerevan with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. They already met the Armenian leaders at the start of their latest regional tour on Wednesday.
“President [Ilham] Aliyev and President [Serzh] Sarkisian have accepted our proposal to hold their next meeting in Prague on May 7,” announced the Minsk Group’s French co-chair, Bernard Fassier.
Fassier and his two counterparts met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku late last week. They were also due to visit Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Fassier the trip was cancelled because of bad weather. The troika was only able to talk to Karabakh President Bako Sahakian by phone, he said.
Fassier said he hoped the meeting would be constructive and productive as the three previous meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents held in Saint-Petersburg, Moscow and Davos.
The meeting will take place on the sidelines of a European Union summit to be held in the Czech capital. Fassier said the mediators hope that Aliyev and Sarkisian will hold a follow-up discussion in Saint-Petersburg, Russia in early June.
Such a meeting was reportedly proposed by Russia, whose president, Dmitry Medvedev held separate informal talks with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts earlier this month. Medvedev said last week that the conflicting parties are “ready to move in the constructive direction in order to solve this very difficult problem.” Aliyev, for his part, expressed hope in Moscow that the Karabakh conflict will be settled “rather quickly.”
Like Sarkisian, Fassier and his U.S. colleague, Matthew Bryza, touted Aliyev’s statements as encouraging. He said new opportunities exist for a rapid solution of the conflict, adding that the co-chairs will do their best to contribute to the process. “A resolution within the coming three months is quite real,” he said.
Bryza, who is also the Deputy US Secretary of State, has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past few weeks in an effort to lock an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework agreement.
He spoke of a “new phase” in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process after he and his fellow mediators held talks with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on April 22. His announcement was followed by reports the next day that Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev had reported fresh progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in their talks in Moscow.
Sarkisian’s announcement from Moscow came as news broke that Armenia and Turkey had issued a joint statement announcing an agreement on a “roadmap” for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. The statement said the “two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding” and have “agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner.”
The announcement did not, however, specify whether that process can be completed before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which Turkey has set as a condition for opening its borders with Armenia.
Bryza said that the dramatic thaw in Armenia’s relations with Turkey will reflect positively on the Karabakh peace process. “The positive mood that results from this signing [of a Turkish-Armenian statement] gives us new energy to accelerate our work to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he said.
The Russian co-chair, Yuri Merzlyakov also praised the recent agreement, telling reporters in Yerevan that the document will have a positive influence on the whole region.
“The normalization of relations would be a good basis for regional development. The rapprochement of the two countries reflects the positive energy in the region, and this energy benefits Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Karabakh solution. However, we expect the two processes to develop separately,” Merzlyakov said.”
The Russian diplomat hinted also that another “roadmap” may be issued for Karabakh conflict. “Everything depends on the decision of the parties on the level of the Presidents of the two countries.”
Fassier said the Madrid Proposals still remain on the table and many of its provisions are going to be discussed in Prague by Presidents Sarkisian and Aliyev.
The Co-Chairs added that the Presidents could have another meeting in Saint Petersburg in June.