The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan ended their
long-awaited face-to-face talks on Wednesday with upbeat statements on prospects
for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Presidents Robert Kocharian
and Heydar Aliev said they agreed to re-invigorate the stalled peace process and
maintain the ceasefire regime around Karabakh, but stopped short of announcing a
breakthrough on any of the sticking points.
The two presidents smiled and appeared in good mood as they spoke to journalists
after a four-hour one-on-one meeting held in a portable cabin on the border
between their countries, only 60 kilometers southeast of Yerevan. The area is
located on the western edge of Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave.
“Our mood is good and we are on the whole satisfied with the course of the
meeting,” Kocharian said. “But we can not tell you anything concrete…because
this entire process is quite complicated.”
“Nonetheless, we hope that this meeting will push forward the process, which
slowed down recently, and that we will be able to move further forward,”
Aliev likewise noted that the talks were “useful.” He said: “President Kocharian
and I have looked into many variants of the [conflict’s] settlement. We have
analyzed the results of our previous meeting and agreed that the negotiating
potential has not yet been exhausted.”
It was the 18th bilateral meeting between Aliev and Kocharian since 1999 and the
first since last November. It was also their longest single encounter.
Kocharian argued that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart are therefore best
placed to settle the long-running Karabakh conflict. “If we don’t solve this
problem, who else will resolve it? Taking into consideration Heydar Alievich’s
and my Karabakh-related backgrounds, we feel a big burden of responsibility,” he
The talks were preceded by a separate meeting between the Armenian and
Azerbaijani defense ministers who have coordinated tight security measures that
were put in place in and around the summit venue. As part of them, the two rival
militaries posted monitors on each other’s border positions overlooking the
area, anxious to rule out sporadic gunfire.
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian told Azerbaijani reporters the conflicting
parties should agree on “mutual compromises,” but ruled out Karabakh’s possible
return under Azerbaijan’s control.
However, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, underlining the depth of
Armenian-Azerbaijani differences over Karabakh’s status, reiterated Baku’s
position that restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the Armenian-populated
enclave must be a part of a future peace deal. Speaking to the Armenian press
corps, Guliev again denied that Aliev and Kocharian had agreed a framework peace
deal on Karabakh during similar negotiations held in Paris in March 2001. He
said the two presidents did discuss such a document in the French capital but
did not reach an agreement because it was unacceptable to the Azerbaijani
Last June, Aliev acknowledged the existence of the so-called “Paris principles.”
But he alleged that it was Armenia that subsequently backtracked on them.
Armenian leaders, for their part, have accused Aliev of presenting a "distorted
version" of the Paris principles, strongly denying his claims that the peace
accord was based on the idea of an exchange of territories between Armenia and
Guliev on Wednesday also admitted that Aliev and Kocharian will find it more
difficult to make mutual concessions ahead of the presidential elections which
will take place in both Azerbaijan and Armenia next year.
Both leaders will be seeking reelection and could be less willing to make
unpopular decisions on the issue.