Was Vienna enough to restart Karabakh negotiations?
20 November 2013

There has been a cautious welcome by the international community of the meeting held on Tuesday (19 November) between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Vienna as part of efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The United States, one of the three co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that has been mandated to help find a solution to the conflict, welcomed the meeting in a comment by the spokesperson of the State Department, Jen Psaki:

"We commend the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan for this first step, and are encouraged they have agreed to a follow-up meeting in the months ahead. Their first meeting in almost two years, this summit is an important step toward restarting dialogue and demonstrates the leaders' shared commitment to bring an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group along with Russia and France, the United States urges both presidents to work actively towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which has taken a heavy toll on the people on all sides."

The meeting was also welcomed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) under whose auspices it was held.The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara said, 

"I trust that the highest-level dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan will contribute to strengthening confidence and mutual understanding between the parties and will provide a positive incentive for the negotiation process on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement."

"We believe that such negotiations serve as a warranty for peace, stability and opening new opportunities for regional co-operation. The Ukrainian Chairmanship stands ready to further facilitate the efforts of Azerbaijan and Armenia with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on the establishment of the regular dialogue aimed at reaching comprehensive peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of international law."

Reporting the meeting, the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti said that the tete-a-tete meeting between the two Presidents lasted for two hours and was followed by a brief meeting attended by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries and diploamts from the OSCE Minsk Process. The agency quoting other media sources said that the Presidents did not shake hands at any point during the meeting. The only comment was made by the Armenian President who described the meeting as "normal". The Press Offices of both Presidents carried pictures of the meeting on their websites with a short one sentence report saying that the meeting had taken place. None of the pictures of the meetings released by the two sides show the two Presidents looking at each other, let alone shaking hands. political editor said in a comment:

"This meeting was never going to be easy. Nearly two years since their last face to face meeting in Sochi the two leaders had first to find a reference point from where they could re-start the negotiations. The fact that they have made many tough statements in this period also does not help the process. The very fact that a meeting has taken place is a positive and welcome step, but far from being a breakthrough.

As has happened often in the past the international community may be reassured by the fact that the two leaders are now talking again. But this would be a big mistake, for the lessons of the last twenty years on Karabakh show that unless the talks are followed quickly with change in the situation on the ground, the momentum, if any exists, quickly fades. Over the next days the propaganda machine in both countries will give their spin of the meeting, and its significance from the point of view of the two countries. At this point we will know if there is room for optimism or not. In the meantime the world waits for the next episode, as the Foreign Ministers prepare for a follow-up meeting in Kiev in early December, on the margins of the Ministerial Meeting of the OSCE.

As the statement of the American government says, Vienna was 'a step forward in restarting dialogue', and for this reason it should be welcomed. There are many steps that are yet to be taken before we can say that peace negotiations are taking place in earnest, and those that have been affected by this conflict have no choice at this stage but to also welcome this first step, and hope for more in the near future."

source: with RIA Novosti and other media sources.

photo: President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan and President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia prior to their tete-a-tete meeting in Vienna on 19 November 2013 (picture courtesy of the press Service of the President of Azerbaijan.)