LEADERS TO MEET ON KARABAKH, PRESSURE FOR PROGRESS
Nov 19 2009
TBILISI, Nov 19 (Reuters) – The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan
will hold talks on Sunday on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, France
said on Thursday, with Turkey pressing for progress before it seals
a rapprochement with Armenia.
Fifteen years of mediation have failed to produce a peace deal on the
Armenian-populated mountain territory, at the heart of a key transit
region for oil and gas to the West.
But a historic thaw between Armenia and close Azeri ally Turkey —
which has significance for Turkey’s EU membership bid and landlocked
Armenia’s crisis-hit economy — has thrust the conflict back into
the diplomatic spotlight.
Turkey says it wants to see progress on Nagorno-Karabakh before
it ratifies a deal to open its border with Armenia and establish
diplomatic ties, overcoming a century of hostility stemming from the
mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.
The French Foreign Ministry, in a statement posted on its website,
said Armenia’s Serzh Sarksyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev would
meet on Sunday at the French consulate in Munich.
The negotiations are led by a trio of mediators from the United States,
Russia and France working under the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Backed by Armenia, ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh threw off
rule by Muslim Azerbaijan in fighting that erupted as the Soviet
Union headed towards its 1991 collapse. Some 30,000 people died and
more than 1 million were made homeless.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with
Azerbaijan. Ethnic Armenian forces took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and
seven surrounding Azeri districts, including a corridor to Armenia. A
ceasefire was agreed in 1994.
The Munich meeting will be the sixth this year, an intensity fuelling
speculation about a possible breakthrough. Mediators say they are
making progress, but diplomats caution that neither side appears
ready to commit to difficult concessions and sell them to their people.
"Azerbaijan is standing at the middle of the bridge, and waiting for
the other side to approach," Azeri Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov
said on Thursday.
Sarksyan is already under fire from nationalists at home over the thaw
with longtime foe Turkey, making a deal on Nagorno-Karabakh even more
unpalatable, analysts say.
Mediators are working on a deal that would see the return of many
of the Azeri districts held by Armenians, in return for greater
international legitimacy for the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities and a