STASBOURG (Combined Sources)–The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan held what they described as productive talks in Strasbourg late Tuesday aimed at kick-starting the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
The meeting was the first between Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov. It focused on the possibility of arranging a meeting of the two countries’ presidents.
The two ministers began their meeting in private and were later joined by the French, Russian and US diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. They held separate talks with the mediators earlier in the day. Yuri Merzlyakov, the Minsk Group’s Russian co-chair, told Armenian Public Television that he is "very content" with the results of the discussions held on the sidelines of a regular session of the Council of Europe’s decision-making Committee of Ministers.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian reassured the co-chairs about Armenia’s overall acceptance of their proposed basic principles of resolving the Karabakh conflict. The mediators heard similar assurances from President Serzh Sarkisian when they met him in Bucharest in early April.
The basic principles, formally submitted to Baku and Yerevan last November, envision a gradual solution to the dispute that would delay agreement on Karabakh’s status, the main bone of contention.
Azerbaijan has hardened its position after it violated the cease-fire regime in March with a series of unprecedented attacks across the border. Meanwhile, official Baku’s call for all out war to conquer Karabakh has been growing louder in recent weeks. President Aliyev’s position has been fueled by the passage on March 14 of an Azeri drafted UN General Assembly resolution that demanded an "unconditional" Armenian withdrawal from so called "occupied Azerbaijani territories."
But Mamedyarov Tuesday echoed his Armenian counterpart and stressed the need to find a solution to the current deadlock. The two countries are neighbor and cannot simply run away from one another, he added.
"It’s hard to resolve all differences and find solutions in one meeting," he said in remarks broadcast by Armenian Public Television. "Nevertheless there is a possibility of continuing discussions to ultimately reach a common denominator."
Aliev, who is up for reelection this fall, stated last month that Baku will never agree to a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh, a key provision of the Minsk Group plan. He also pledged to continue Azerbaijan’s military build-up, which he hopes will force the Armenia’s to give up control of the disputed territory. Just last week, the Azerbaijani government raised its projected defense spending in 2008 by 53 percent to $2 billion. By comparison, Armenia’s 2008 defense budget is projected at $410 million.
Still, the influential chief of Aliev’s administration, Ramiz Mehtiev, said on Wednesday that Baku is committed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. "We should try to solve this problem and ensure Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity by peaceful means," he told a news conference in Baku, according to Day.az.