Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian (L) and his counterpart from Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov sit together at a session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow, April 8, 2016

Armenian, Azeri FMs Hold ‘Positive’ Talks on Karabakh

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VIENNA (RFE/RL) — The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan held late on Wednesday, December 6, what they both described as “positive” negotiations on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov met in Vienna in a bid to build on progress that was reportedly made at a recent Armenian-Azerbaijani summit. The meeting apparently lasted for several hours.

According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the two men began the talks in the presence of the US, Russian and French mediators and then spoke in a smaller format. A ministry statement said they discussed ways of implementing agreements reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their last three meetings.

“Yesterday’s meeting with my Azerbaijani counterpart took place in a generally positive mood,” Nalbandian said on Thursday at an annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council, also held in the Austrian capital. “Let’s see what developments will follow it.”

An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman said, for his part, that Mammadyarov and Nalbandian engaged in “intensive and concrete discussions on existing proposals” to resolve the Karabakh conflict. “Elmar Mammadyarov said that the meeting was positive and constructive,” the official, Hikmet Hajiyev, was quoted by Azerbaijani news agencies as saying.

Hajiyev also said that Mammadyarov and Nalbandian agreed to meet again “in the second half of January 2018.” The Armenian Foreign Ministry likewise reported that their next talks will take place early next year.

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Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev most recently met in Geneva on October 16. They pledged to intensify the Karabakh peace process and bolster the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone.

The US, Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group held separate follow-up talks with Mammadyarov and Nalbandian in Moscow on November 16. In a joint statement, they said they discussed “concrete steps to implement the agreements reached” at the Geneva summit. They added that the chief Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats will meet in early December to look into “substantive issues of the political settlement as well as specific measures to reduce tensions on the Line of Contact” around Karabakh.

In what appeared to be a related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Baku and Yerevan later in November. Speaking in the Armenian capital, Lavrov sounded encouraged by Aliyev’s and Sargsyan’s “positive mood.” But he also cautioned against excessive optimism about a Karabakh settlement, saying that the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations “will not end quickly.”

Lavrov said in March that the conflicting sides are still far apart on “two or three” elements of a framework peace accord that has been advanced by the mediating powers for the past decade. Still, he said they broadly agree on the peace formula envisaging Armenian withdrawal from “districts around Karabakh” and a decision on Karabakh’s status which would “take into account the opinion of the people living there.”

Aliyev and Sargsyan came close to cutting a peace deal along these lines at a 2011 summit in Kazan, Russia.

Nalbandian reiterated that the proposed settlement is largely acceptable to Yerevan when he addressed the OSCE meeting in Vienna on Thursday. “We are convinced that there is no alternative to peace talks and that it is necessary to conduct intensive negotiations based on the proposals of the co-chair countries,” he said.

Nalbandian claimed that Baku “rejects those proposals” in line with its “intransigent and maximalist position.”

The mediators have specifically advocated a future referendum in which Karabakh’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population would determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status. Yerevan and Baku are thought to have disagreed, at least until now, on practical modalities of such a vote as well as a timetable for the liberation of formerly Azerbaijani-populated districts around Karabakh.

Sarkisian said in late October that a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh dispute could only be “painful” to both sides. The remark prompted concern from some of his hardline critics opposed to territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.

The Armenian leader, whose final presidential term ends in April 2018, has repeatedly ruled out any settlement that would restore Azerbaijani control over Karabakh itself. By contrast, Aliyev has stated that Baku will never recognize the territory’s de facto secession from Azerbaijan.

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