VIENNA (RFE/RL)—Presidents Serzh Sarkisian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan pledged to reinvigorate the protracted search for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during face-to-face talks held in Vienna on Tuesday.
Neither man made any statements to the press after their two-hour meeting, the first in nearly two years, mostly held in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Sarkisian uttered only one word as he emerged from a conference room in the Austrian capital. “Normal,” he said when asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) to describe the talks.
“During their private one-on-one meeting and the working session afterward with the Co-Chairs and the Ministers, the Presidents discussed a broad range of issues related to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the co-chairs said in an ensuing joint statement.
“The Presidents agreed to advance negotiations toward a peaceful settlement,” read the statement. “They instructed their Foreign Ministers to continue to cooperate with the Co-Chairs to build on the work to date with the aim of intensifying the peace process. They agreed to meet again in the months ahead.”
The mediators also announced that they will arrange another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers and again visit the conflict zone before the end of this year. It remained unclear whether they presented Aliyev and Sarkisian with any new peace proposals.
The two leaders already pledged to intensify the peace process at their previous meeting held in Russia in January 2012. The process has remained effectively deadlocked since then, however.
The United States appears to have been the main driving force behind the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit, with President Barack Obama personally urging Aliyev and Sarkisian in September to resume their direct contacts. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had phone conversations with both presidents ahead of the Vienna talks.
“I talked with both President Aliyev and President Sargsian in the last 72 hours and they are meeting shortly,” Kerry told reporters in Washington on Monday. “We are urging that process to move forward, and we will continue to be engaged in that.”
“The United States welcomes today’s meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Vienna, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs,” said a statement from the U.S. State Department. “We commend the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan for this first step, and are encouraged they have agreed to a follow-up meeting in the months ahead.”
“Their first meeting in almost two years, this summit is an important step toward restarting dialogue and demonstrates the leaders’ shared commitment to bring an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the statement continued. “As a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group along with Russia and France, the United States urges both presidents to work actively towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which has taken a heavy toll on the people on all sides.”
Turkey Chimes In
Turkey hopes that a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is on the horizon, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late on Monday.
“We hope that this frozen conflict will be ending soon,” Davutoglu told a joint news conference with Kerry in Washington. “And that will bring peace to Caucasia; that will bring peace to the region beyond Caucasia.”
“Therefore, today I am happy to see that John and me and Turkey and the United States look to this issue from the same perspective, and we hope that this meeting [on Tuesday] between President [Serzh] Sarkisian and President [Ilham] Aliyev will be successful,” he said.
Kerry also indicated that the Karabakh issue was on the agenda of their talks, noting Turkey’s “very large role” in the region in that context. “For months now, we have been talking about Cyprus and we have been talking about Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said. “And quietly, we have been trying to work ways that our ambassadors … are continuing that process,” he said.
Turkey hopes that decisive progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks would eliminate the main obstacle to the normalization of its relations with Armenia sought by the United States. Ankara regards the Karabakh settlement as a precondition for implementing U.S.-brokered normalization agreements signed with Yerevan in 2009.
The Turkish government stands by that linkage while apparently seeking renewed diplomatic contacts with the Armenian side ahead of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. Davutoglu reportedly asked Switzerland, another sponsor of the 2009 agreements, to “convince Armenia to leave the occupied territories” of Azerbaijan during a visit to Berne last month.
Armenian leaders made clear afterwards that another Turkish-Armenian rapprochement will be impossible as long as Ankara sticks to its precondition.
The U.S. has likewise repeatedly urged the Turks to unconditionally ratify the Turkish-Armenian protocols. Still, Kerry made no mention of those protocols and broader Turkish-Armenian relations at the news conference with Davutoglu.