ALIEV-SARGSYAN SUMMIT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. A face to face meeting between the two leaders is a positive development
28 September 2013

President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia will hold a summit meeting before the end of the year in a further attempt to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Diplomats from France, Russia and the United States who met the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in New York on Friday said that they will travel to the region in November to prepare for the meeting. Aliev and Sargsyan held a number of face to face meetings in the period between November 2008 and January 2011. Most of these meetings were facilitated by the then Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. The talks however failed to achieve a breakthrough and the two sides have in the last two years often communicated through what is sometimes referred to as "megaphone diplomacy" - namely through statements in the mass media which often were anything but diplomatic.

In a statement posted on the website of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) it was stated that in New York the diplomats and the Ministers "continued discussions on the substance of the peace process" The representatives of France, United States and Russia "stressed the commitment of their three countries to support the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and equal rights and self-determination of peoples. They also referred to the statement of their three Presidents on June 18, 2013, "with special attention to the appeal to the sides to refrain from any actions or rhetoric that could raise tension in the region and lead to escalation of the conflict." The Ministers on their part reiterated their determination to continue working with the diplomats "to reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict". France, Russia and the United States co-Chair the so-called "Minsk Process", a mechanism mandated by the international community to help the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. political editor said in a comment that "a summit before Christmas is now expedient for both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani Presidents. Presidential elections are due in Azerbaijan on October 9, and although the re-election of President Aliev is assured the process has already proven more messy than the Azerbaijani government would have wished, and the next weeks are likely to see Azerbaijan under increasing international criticism. On the other hand President Sargsyan international reputation was seriously dented by his abrupt decision in August to abandon plans for closer co-operation with the European Union and to join instead the Russian sponsored Customs Union. A "peace summit" in the next weeks in which the two Presidents will be seen acting in a statesman-like fashion will work well for both sides. It may however easily be a whitewash unless well prepared.

However even allowing for a healthy doze of cynicism, a face to face meeting between the two leaders is a positive development, and the diplomats of the Minsk Group co-Chair countries are right to make most of the opportunity.Both Presidents are expected to attend the Vilnius Summit of the EU leaders and the Eastern Partnership  countries at the end of November. An Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Vilnius may be problematic for the Russians who have been doing their best to undermine the Eastern Partnership meeting, but an opportunity around the same time, or shortly afterwards may emerge, possibly in connection with a meeting of the CIS."