STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–A senior Nagorno-Karabakh official brushed aside on Thursday Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s claims that Armenia and Azerbaijan moved closer to resolving their long-running territorial dispute during their latest high-level negotiations. "We are already approaching the final phase of negotiations," Aliyev told Azeri state television following his talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Tuesday with President Robert Kocharian. He said they reached agreement on a number of contentious issues that have precluded the signing of a framework peace accord so far. A senior aide to Arkady Ghoukassian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic president, saw no cause for optimism. "If President Aliyev is saying that the process is moving in a positive direction, that is quite dangerous in itself," Arman Melikian told RFE/RL. "To my knowledge, his idea of positive direction is that Nagorno-Karabakh can not be an independent and sovereign state." Aliyev repeated on Wednesday that he will never recognize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. Baku is only ready to give the disputed territory a "maximum degree of self-rule," he said. Armenian officials insist, however, that under the existing peace plan proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group, Karabakh’s population will have a chance to legitimize the secession in a referendum to be held years after the start of an Armenian pullout from occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper. Unlike official Yerevan, the Karabakh leadership has voiced serious misgivings about this formula. Ghoukassian discussed the Karabakh peace process with the Minsk Group’s US co-chair, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, during a visit to the United States last week.