Karabakh: Armenian, Azerbaijani leaders head for Vienna talks

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are expected to hold their first meeting after last month’s hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh. The meeting in Vienna, Austria, due to take place tonight has been prepared through the efforts of international mediators.

The American, Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group hope the personal contact of the two South Caucasus leaders will help reinforce the shaky ceasefire in the conflict zone reached on April 5.

The Moscow-brokered verbal agreement put an end to four days of heavy fighting that claimed scores of lives on both sides, but sporadic skirmishes resulting in deaths and injuries continue in the conflict zone to date.

The top diplomats of the United States, Russia and France have confirmed they are going to attend the Vienna discussions, too.

Earlier, the Minsk Group co-chairs – Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, James Warlick of the United States, and Pierre Andrieu of France – said the main objectives of the co-chair countries’ foreign ministers at the meeting would be “to reinforce the ceasefire regime and to seek agreement on confidence-building measures that would create favorable conditions for resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement on the basis of elements and principles under discussion.”

In their May 12 statement the mediators also stressed that “there can be no success in negotiations if violence continues, and there can be no peace without a negotiation process.”

“We reiterate that there is no military solution to the conflict,” the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs said.

Meanwhile, tensions around Karabakh and at the restive Armenian-Azerbaijani state border continue as the parties to the conflict routinely accuse each other of violating the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

Observers say a full-blown war in the area – a prospect feared if the current military buildup and level of animosity continue on both sides – may also involve other regional countries, including Turkey and Russia.

On the eve of the Sargsyan-Aliyev meeting in Vienna, the defense ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia met to discuss plans for holding joint military exercises.

“To increase the combat capabilities and combat readiness of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia, we deemed it worthwhile to carry out joint military exercises,” Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said after the May 15 talks in the Azerbaijani town of Gabala.