VIENNA (ArmeniaNow) — President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan agreed to respect the ceasefire in Nagorno Karabagh and resume their dialogue to find a compromise peace deal during internationally mediated talks in Vienna, Austria, late on Monday, May 16.
The two leaders met for the first time since last month’s four-day hostilities in Artsakh that left scores killed and injured on both sides in the worst violence since 1994.
The meeting was co-hosted by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and France’s State Secretary for Europe Affairs Harlem Desir – the top diplomats of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chair countries.
After the meeting the top American, Russian and French diplomats said that Sargsyan and Aliyev will meet again in June to try to revive the peace process and reiterated that “there can be no military solution to the conflict.”
“The Presidents reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict,” reads a joint statement issued by Kerry, Lavrov and Desire after the meeting and published on the OSCE official website. “To reduce the risk of further violence, they agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism. The Presidents also agreed to the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office.”
According to the statement, Sargsyan and Aliyev also agreed on a “next round of talks, to be held in June at a place to be mutually agreed, with an aim to resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement.”
Finally, the two leaders reportedly agreed to continue the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to which they committed during the Paris summit of October 2014.
Since the escalation in Nagorno Karabagh in early April President Sargsyan presented three preconditions for resuming talks with Azerbaijan: introduction of mechanisms to investigate ceasefire violation incidents; “targeted” statements by international mediators; and guarantees for non-resumption of hostilities.
Azerbaijan has for years effectively rejected internationally proposed confidence-building measures, including mechanisms to reinforce the ceasefire and investigate incidents.
Sargsyan’s press office released a report on the meeting late on May 16, saying that “the co-chair countries’ representatives insisted on the strict implementation of the 1994 truce and 1995 truce-reinforcing agreements.”
“Agreement was reached to initiate steps on the introduction of monitoring of their implementation and mechanisms of investigation of incidents, the increase of the possibilities of the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, in the direction of the possible resumption of the negotiating process on conflict settlement,” it said.
Before the meeting the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders also held separate meetings with Kerry and top European Union diplomat Federica Mogherini.
The meeting was, in general, positively received by the Armenian side, but experts and politicians also general expect no significant changes in the process as a result of that.
On his way back from Vienna to Yerevan, Sargsyan gave an interview to Armenian TV channels on board his presidential jet, saying that the goal of the Armenian side was to find out whether in reality negotiations had reached an impasse and there was no other way than war, or, however, the problem could still be solved with minimal losses.
“In general, my colleagues and I are satisfied with the results of the meeting, and we can speak about this more clearly, when the co-chairs’ statement is released. But nevertheless, the Azerbaijani president gave assurances that his country and he have no intention of achieving a military solution to the problem,” he said, hinting, however, that the Azerbaijani leader’s assurances should be treated skeptically.
“You understand very well, and I think you even predict my reaction, which is the following: it is good, but it inspires little faith, because there had been lots of such talks, whereas, in reality, the agreement has not been observed for several years,” said Sargsyan, adding that despite the desire of the Armenian side to a peaceful settlement of the conflict, in all cases they are ready for any outcome.
Incidentally, during the meeting, skirmishes continued around Karabakh. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides reported casualties.
However, the outcome of the Vienna meeting was welcomed in Stepanakert, too. The NKR President’s spokesman David Babayan said work has started in the right direction — from the lowest rung, that is, introduction of monitoring mechanisms.
“They should start little by little, by taking small steps to construct, so to speak, the building of the conflict settlement. This issue has been neglected for some unknown reasons, meanwhile the importance of it has been voiced by both official Yerevan and Stepanakert many times. It’s all about [the introduction of] equipment, which should be installed along the line of contact between Azerbaijan and Artsakh [an alternative name for Karabagh], as well as along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The co-chair countries may use satellites to see whether there are movements of troops or not,” said Babayan.
Armen Martirosyan, deputy chairman of Armenia’s opposition Heritage party, said that by this meeting the results of the Azerbaijani aggression have only been confirmed, while they have not spoken about what Sargsyan called “targeted” statements by international mediators and the restoration of the line of contact in the form it existed before Azerbaijan’s offensive on April 2.
“In fact, no major changes happened. In my opinion, this is for winning time, while Azerbaijan will continue its policy, and this has been proven by the fact that even during the Vienna meeting, a soldier was killed at the line of contact,” Martirosyan told ArmeniaNow.
According to political analyst Sergey Minasyan, the meeting was broadly consistent with the purposes for which it was arranged.
“They have possibly been silent on President Sargsyan’s demand related to statements directed to the initiator of the aggression, but we should take into consideration that diplomatic processes sometimes require a milder reaction. I think that a frank discussion took place during this meeting, and, in this respect, it can be treated with cautious optimism,” the political analyst told ArmeniaNow.