(RFE/RL)–International mediators on Friday–ended another round of shuttle diplomacy on a cautiously optimistic note.
The French–Russian–and US diplomats acting under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group reiterated–after longer-than-planned talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian–that though a compromise peace deal is visible–there are no guarantees.
"We have made a considerable degree of progress in the past year in discussing these issues between the sides," the group’s American co-chair–Steven Mann–told a joint news conference in Yerevan. "We still have difficult issues before us–but I believe that objective conditions exist for that type of solution before the end of the year."
"But there are very difficult issues that are still on the table and real gaps between the two sides," he added without elaborating. "So although the possibility exists to resolve the conflict–there is no guarantee that it will happen."
Mann’s Russian counterpart–Yuri Merzlyakov–described the mediators’ meeting with Kocharian as "very open and substantive," saying that it focused on the unspecified "key elemen’s of the basis of the future settlement." Merzlyakov said the main result of the troika’s visit to Baku–Stepanakert and Yerevan was a confirmation of Kocharian’s next meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The Armenian-Azerbaijani summit will take place in the Russian city of Kazan in late August shortly after another meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers–he said.
When asked whether the co-chairs anticipate a breakthrough in Kazan–Merzlyakov replied–"We very much hope that this will happen–but not everything depends on us."
"These are two very serious men," Mann said for his part. "So I–for one–have the expectation that this will be a detailed and–I hope–very productive discussion."
Arkady Ghukasian–the president of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic–told journalists in Stepanakert on Friday that Azerbaijan has adopted a "more constructive" stance and has toned down its militant rhetoric.
"Today Azerbaijan is expressing readiness to discuss topics that were closed for them in the past," Ghukasian said–singling out the pivotal issue of Karabagh’s future status. "The Azeri leadership is discussing that issue today both with the mediators and the leadership of Armenia," he said.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov insisted on Friday that the negotiating process is being held "on the basis of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and the country’s constitution."
The search for peace–however–could be complicated by Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum in Armenia that are scheduled for this November.
"Theoretically–these events should have no impact on the negotiating process," said Bernard Fassier–France’s chief Karabagh negotiator. "But that is a theory. I can’t predict what will happen in practice in the political life of both countries during the pre-election campaign."