Armenia, Azerbaijan to Intensify Talks


By Denis Dyomkin

MOSCOW (Combined Sources) — The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed an agreement in Moscow, agreeing to intensify talks to end a 20-year conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabagh. The agreement also calls for the sole use of political means to resolve the dispute.

Armenian President Serge Sargisian and his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev also agreed after talks outside Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to develop confidence-building measures as they search for a way to resolve the conflict.

Nagorno-Karabagh’s mostly ethnic Armenian population broke away from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed. It now runs its own affairs, with support from Armenia.

“The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to continue work, including during further contacts on a high level, on agreeing a political resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh,” according to a copy of the declaration they signed, which was read out by Medvedev.

Both presidents “ordered their foreign ministers to intensify further steps in the negotiating process in coordination with the Minsk group” of international mediators.

Sargisian and Aliyev, who hastily shook hands before the talks at the Meiendorf Castle official residence outside Moscow, signed the document along with Medvedev, who is seeking to underline Russia’s clout in the Caucasus region.

The war between Russia and Georgia in August appears to have lent new impetus to diplomatic efforts to resolve the Karabagh conflict, with Russia trying to show it can act as a broker.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry described the talks as “positive and productive.”

“We believe that the signing of the declaration will give a serious impetus to further negotiations because it was stated that the Karabagh conflict must be resolved by political means, within the framework of the [OSCE’s] Minsk Group and on the basis of the Madrid proposals [made by the mediators in November 2007,]” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan, Tigran Balayan said. “We welcomed that initiative by the Russian president and find it important for activating negotiations,” he said.

Official Baku has also expressed its satisfaction with the Moscow document. “The signing of the declaration marked a historic moment in the conflict’s resolution and the start of a new process,” Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, told the Trend news agency on Monday.

But whether the conflict could be resolved before the end of this year remains unclear. When asked about chances of a breakthrough in the coming weeks, Balayan reiterated Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian’s calls last week for Azerbaijan to display a “political will,” which he said is needed for settling the dispute.

Mammadov, on the other hand, insisted that the success of the latest international push for Karabagh peace primarily depends on the Armenian sides’ readiness to make concessions to Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Matthew Bryza, the US cochair of the Minsk Group, told another Azerbaijani news agency, APA, that he and his Russian and French colleagues will jointly tour the conflict zone ahead of an OSCE ministerial meeting in Helsinki scheduled for early December. He said they will try to “help the parties agree on the next meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

The three co-chairs were not present at Aliyev’s and Sargisian’s face-to-face encounter at the Meiendorf Castle official residence outside Moscow. But they did hold separate talks with the two leaders there later on Sunday.

Bryza described the signing of the declaration as a “landmark event.” “The co-chairs of the Minsk Group needed that support from the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to move the negotiating process forward faster,” he said.

( The Independentand Radio Free Europe contributed stories which were combined in this report.)