U.S., Russia, France watch for Armenian, Azeri Presidents' meeting

U.S., Russia, France watch for Armenian, Azeri Presidents' meeting

PanARMENIAN.Net - The heads of delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairing countries issued a statement, reaffirming their joint commitment to mediating a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

According to the top officials - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French State Secretary for European Affairs Harlem Desir - the parties should continue discussions. Keeping in mind the Sochi, Wales, and Paris Summits of 2014 on elements of a comprehensive settlement, they should intensify their dialogue in 2016 on the basis of proposals currently under discussion.

"We welcome the upcoming meeting between Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan, under the auspices of the Minsk Group Co-chairs. In light of the recent escalation, we urge the sides to re-commit themselves to the peaceful resolution of the conflict," the statement reads.

With a significant escalation along the line of contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border this year, the status quo has become unsustainable, the dignitaries note. "We especially condemn the use of mortars and other heavy weaponry, and deeply regret the civilian casualties these weapons have caused. There is no military solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, and there is no justification for the death and injury of innocent civilians. We appeal to the sides in the strongest possible terms to reduce tensions and protect lives. The Co-chairs have proposed risk-reduction measures that we encourage the sides to adopt, including an OSCE investigation mechanism."

The officials welcome the progress made by the sides in implementing the data exchange on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Also, they encourage further cooperation with ICRC, pledging to ensure that it has sufficient funding to fully implement this important humanitarian measure. Azerbaijani authorities’ decision to return an Armenian soldier who crossed the line of contact and an Armenian civilian who crossed the international border was a "helpful humanitarian gesture and consistent with international humanitarian obligations," they said.

"We urge the sides to return all remaining prisoners under the Astrakhan Declaration of October 2010 issued by the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation. There must also be dialogue between Armenians and Azerbaijanis to build trust between neighboring peoples. We encourage the sides to work with the Co-chairs to support programs that bring together people affected by the conflict," the statement goes on to read.

"Over the past year, we have witnessed increasingly vocal attacks on the Co-chairs and the Minsk Group format. We emphasize that the Minsk Group remains the only accepted format by the sides and has the full confidence of all OSCE participating states. Any attempts to blame the Co-chairs for setbacks in the negotiation process only mask the primary obstacle to peace - the lack of political will to reach a negotiated settlement. We reaffirm our readiness to work closely with the sides on achieving our common objective of a lasting peace," the statement concludes.

The conflict between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan

The conflict between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan broke out as result of the ethnic cleansing launched by the Azeri authorities in the final years of the Soviet Union. The Karabakh War was fought from 1991 (when the Nagorno Karabakh Republic was proclaimed) to 1994 (when a ceasefire was sealed by Armenia, NKR and Azerbaijan). Most of Nagorno Karabakh and a security zone consisting of 7 regions are now under control of NKR defense army. Armenia and Azerbaijan are holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group up till now.

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