YEREVAN -- Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian says Armenia and Azerbaijan could soon reach a framework agreement on their lingering dispute over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, but he said any deal would have to be approved by Karabakh's ethnic Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Nalbandian stood by statements made by official Yerevan and Baku on his weekend talks in Moscow with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted the talks in preparation for the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit due to be held in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, on June 25.
"You know that the [Armenian] Foreign Ministry circulated a statement on the ministerial meeting in Moscow saying that the parties managed to bring their positions closer to each other on a number of pivotal issues," Nalbandian told journalists. "If this positive trend is maintained at Kazan, then we will be able to register positive progress."
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will meet in Kazan one month after the United States, Russia, and France jointly urged them to finalize the "basic principles" of the conflict's resolution without "further delay."
Diplomats from the three mediating powers discussed the matter during their recent tour of the Karabakh conflict zone.
Bako Sahakian, the self-styled president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told them in Stepanakert on June 8 that the basic principles could not be put into practice without being endorsed by the Karabakh Armenians. Sahakian also insisted on their direct participation in further peace talks.
Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Nalbandian backed those demands.
"It will be impossible to switch to the second phase [of the peace process] if Karabakh doesn't agree to the basic principles," he said. "The second phase would see the elaboration of a [comprehensive] peace accord, and Nagorno-Karabakh must definitely take part in it."
Nalbandian added that "for us, the cornerstone of a peaceful settlement is that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh must decide their fate."
Azerbaijan has refused to directly negotiate with the ethnic Armenian leadership of Karabakh since the late 1990s, saying that the territory is occupied by Armenia and has no legitimate government.
The Karabakh conflict was on the agenda of Nalbandian's meeting with Bildt. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Bildt was briefed on recent developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiating process.
Bildt, who arrived in Yerevan from Baku, expressed hope that the conflicting parties would achieve a breakthrough "in the not-too-distant future."
He said that "there is no alternative to a peaceful resolution," adding, "That requires a sense of compromise on both sides because a movement forward will require compromises."
Bildt said that "the ultimate prize is peace and that is, of course, of immense importance for both countries and for the possibilities of moving the region forward."