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Expectations for Kazan Meeting: Some Hopeful, Others Believe No Deal on Karabakh will be Signed

The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia met behind closed doors in Moscow on Saturday, as international mediators ratcheted up the pressure for a breakthrough in the long conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, writes Ellen Barry in The New York Times.

Analysts say a presidential-level meeting scheduled for Jun. 25 is the best opportunity in years to end the stalemate over the territory, an Armenian enclave that sought to break away from Azerbaijan at the end of the Soviet period. The momentum has been driven in large part by President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who has invested his time and prestige in resolving the dispute.

Russia’s goal for the late-June meeting in Kazan, Russia, is to persuade the sides to agree to the set of “basic principles” negotiated more than five years ago, said Aleksandr K. Lukashevich, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry. He said international mediators — Russia, France and the United States — had clearly expressed the urgency of a deal.

The foreign ministers made no statements after the meeting on Saturday, but on Friday, a top aide to Azerbaijan’s president said there were “great expectations” for the talks in Kazan. Statements from Armenia have been more circumspect, though the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday that “it will be possible to achieve the expected progress if Azerbaijan also gives its consent,” news services reported.

Passions about Nagorno-Karabakh run so high in Azerbaijan and Armenia that the leaders of both countries run serious risks if it looks like they have ceded ground, said Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. The framework agreement outlined in the basic principles would allow the return of thousands of Azeris displaced during a six-year war over the territory, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994, and Armenia’s president must persuade his people that ethnic Armenians living there will not be in danger. And because it grants Nagorno-Karabakh an interim self-governing status, Azerbaijan’s president will have to show that he is not compromising territorial integrity.

“This becomes a dangerous moment in which maybe nothing is happening on the ground, the leaders have stuck their heads over the parapet, and domestic opposition is firing missiles at both of them,” said de Waal. It is especially important, he said, that any deal be followed by tangible progress.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, and more than a million people, most of them Azeris, became refugees. Armenia says it has had to control a broad buffer zone to protect ethnic Armenians in the enclave but will give it up in exchange for the right guarantees.

Azerbaijan, which has enormous oil wealth, has ramped up its military spending to more than $3 billion a year and warned that it would go to war if negotiations failed.

Richard Giragosian, an analyst based in Yerevan, said he doubted that the Kazan meeting would achieve a breakthrough. Originally, the sides were to be presented a one-page document renouncing the use of force, he said. That goal has been replaced by a more ambitious one — endorsement of the basic principles — which he says is unrealistic.

“The two sides are simply too far apart, and there’s no political will,” said Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center. “When I was in the US government I worked on the Madrid talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this has become almost as intractable.”