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Azerbaijan, Armenia Hold 'Serious' Talks On Karabakh

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet in Chisinau on October 8

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet in Chisinau on October 8

CHISINAU (Reuters) -- The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia held constructive talks on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on October 8 and will meet again soon, a U.S. envoy said.

Success in the talks in the Moldovan capital is seen as key to easing the way for restoring relations between Christian Armenia and Muslim Turkey to end a century of hostility.

U.S. ambassador Robert Bradtke said the meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Serzh Sarkisian continued "a positive dynamic in the discussions" on the future of the mountainous enclave.

"The discussions were serious and constructive. They have agreed to meet again in the near future," Bradtke, who appeared alongside envoys from Russia and France, told reporters.

But there was no word on the substance of the talks.

Violence erupted in the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan's internationally recognised borders, in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union headed towards its 1991 collapse.

Ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia, drove out Azeri troops and took control of seven districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Some 30,000 people were killed in the war and many more people displaced.

Russian ambassador Yury Merzlyakov said the next meeting between the two presidents would be "relatively soon."

Both men were to stay on in Chisinau on October 9 when they will meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as part of a summit of ex-Soviet republics within the Commonwealth of Independent States.

It was not clear if they would hold a second round of face-to-face talks on Karabakh then.

Ease Tension

Analysts said the outcome of the October 8 talks in Chisinau was important in terms of a scheduled meeting in Zurich on October 10 when Armenia and Turkey are scheduled to sign an accord to normalize ties.

The hostility between the two nations dates back to mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces in World War I.

Turkey broke off diplomatic relations and closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with its ally Azerbaijan.

An agreement to normalize ties and open the border would bolster Turkey's credentials as a moderniser in the West, boost the poverty-stricken economy of landlocked Armenia, and improve security in the South Caucasus, a transit corridor for oil and gas to the West.

Merzlyakov said the Zurich meeting between Armenia and Turkey did not figure in the Chisinau talks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to attend the Zurich ceremony.

French envoy Bernard Fassier said the work of the Minsk group, which comprises the United States, Russia, and France and sponsors international efforts to find a Karabakh settlement, was "without links to other processes."

Aliyev and Sarkisian have much to lose at home if they are seen to make concessions over the emotive issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both men looked tense as they posed for cameras at the start of the talks which were held at the residence of the U.S. ambassador and lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours.

A Turkish parliamentarian, speaking ahead of the talks, said it would be difficult to secure parliamentary approval in Turkey for any normalization of ties with Armenia if the talks on Karabakh did not show progress.