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May 16, 2016
The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents are set to meet in Vienna to discuss a fragile cease-fire in Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The meeting between Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev will be their first face-to-face encounter since Nagorno-Karabakh in early April saw its worst violence in two decades.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on May 16 that she would meet with the presidents. Her announcement, made on social media, did not say if she would meet with them together or separately.
AFP reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — in Vienna for multilateral talks on Syria and Libya — would also meet with the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.
Diplomats from the co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group of mediators in the conflict — the United States, Russia, and France — are to attend the talks.
“For now, the main aim for the mediators is to just calm down the tensions along the front line,” Armenia-based political analyst Hrant Melik-Shahnazaryan told the AFP news agency. “The signing of any documents or reaching of any other sort of agreements is highly unlikely.”
“If the meeting in Vienna does not yield any results, then the likelihood of a repeat of April fighting increases,” according to Elkhan Shainoglu of the Atlas think tank in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
The region, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Internationally mediated negotiations with the involvement of the Minsk Group have failed to result in a resolution.
On April 2, Nagorno-Karabakh saw its worst violence since a shaky cease-fire was reached in 1994 between Azerbaijan and Armenia-backed separatists.
A fresh Russian-brokered cease-fire deal went into effect on April 5, but the sides in the conflict have been accusing each other of breaching the truce agreement.
About 75 soldiers from both sides were killed in April, along with several civilians.
And there are fears of a possible escalation, with Turkey strongly backing Azerbaijan and Russia, which has sold weapons to both sides, obliged to protect Armenia by a mutual security pact.
A day before meeting in Vienna, the defense ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia met to discuss 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 Gasanov said after the May 15 talks in the Azerbaijani city of Qabala.
“Georgia has expressed willingness to host several such exercises in 2017,” his Georgian counterpart, Tina Khidasheli, said. “We have received consent, so we will prepare for spring 2017.”
With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Civil.ge
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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