by RFE/RL's Armenian ServiceThe U.S. co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group has hailed the "constructive dialogue" engaged in recently by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.
Serzh Sarkisian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan held talks in Vienna on November 19 -- the first such meeting in almost two years.The meeting was held under the auspices of the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in Yerevan on December 19, U.S. Ambassador James Warlick said the sides agreed to advance negotiations toward a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."The good news from that is that they did have a constructive dialogue and that in a 90-minute conversation, one-on-one, with no one else present -- 90 minutes -- they were able to talk to each other seriously about the issues," Warlick said."And they came out of that, both sides, believing that they could work with each other and that there is a way forward."Warlick described as another "positive step" the fact that Sarkisian and Aliyev agreed to meet again in the near future."I do know that they talked about the key issues to finding a settlement. They said they respected each other's positions and that they believed that they could find a way to a settlement," he added. "Now, of course, this needs to be worked out, talked through, and that's why we hope that the presidents will meet again to continue the conversation."Thawing The 'Frozen Conflict'Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a war that killed 30,000 people in the 1990s. Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought no results.This week, Yerevan accused Baku of serious cease-fire violations along the border with Nagorno-Karabakh, including one on December 14 in which a 26-year-old Armenian officer was reportedly killed in a shoot-out.Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told visiting OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in Yerevan on December 16 that the incidents hinder the process of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.On December 15, they discussed the next steps in resolving the so-called "frozen conflict" in Baku. No details were released.Warlick told RFE/RL that Ankara could play a role in the settlement of the conflict."We understand that Turkey, as neighbor, of course plays a role in the region. Turkish-Armenian relations are important, and we welcome the visit of the [Turkish] foreign minister here on a bilateral basis to talk through regional issues," he said.Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Armenian counterpart Nalbandian on the sidelines of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation group in Yerevan on December 12.
The two countries have no diplomatic relations, and Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan over the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Efforts over the past years to establish diplomatic relations and reopen the border failed.