YEREVAN, November 19 (RIA Novosti) – The leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia met Tuesday in Vienna in an attempt to resolve a decades-old territorial conflict, an Armenian diplomat said.
Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan met in Vienna’s Palais Coburg hotel for about two hours to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the diplomat said.
The negotiations, mediated by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, marked the first time the presidents have met in two years.
The Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States, has been working – largely fruitlessly – since the early 1990s to resolve the territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that has ensnarled the governments of the two former Soviet nations and soured bilateral relations.
The meeting, which began at 2 p.m. Moscow time (10 a.m. GMT), was held behind closed doors, and the media was only allowed into a room where the two leaders were photographed in accordance with diplomatic protocol.
According to Radio Azatutyun, the Armenian branch of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the presidents did not shake hands before or during the meeting.
Two hours into the meeting, the presidents were joined by Minsk Group envoys.
When asked to comment on the talks, Sargsyan replied to Radio Azatutyun that the meeting proceeded “normally.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope on Monday that the face-to-face meeting would help accelerate a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute flared up in 1988, when the region’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population began large-scale protests against Azerbaijani rule, seeking first to become part of Armenia and later declaring independence. A war ensued in the early 1990s, ending in 1994 with a shaky ceasefire that failed to resolve the conflict.
Azerbaijan insists on control over Nagorno-Karabakh to maintain its territorial integrity, while Armenia has been fighting for the interests of the still-unrecognized republic. Armenian armed forces have, since the war, occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and parts of several other regions of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory.