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Armenia, Azerbaijan Still Apart On Karabakh

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev (center), Ilham Aliyev (left) and Serzh Sarkisian meet in Moscow on July 18.
YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) -- The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan plan to meet again this autumn after talks in Moscow over Nagorno-Karabakh which the Azeri side said were unproductive.

Armenia's Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev met Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday in a bid to resolve the Karabakh dispute, one of the so-called 'frozen conflicts' left by the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.

"Statements by officials made after the meeting indicate that no progress on principle issues has been made," Panakh Huseinov, from Azerbaijan's security and defense parliamentary committee and an opposition member, told Reuters on July 19.

Armenia hailed the talks as "constructive" and its foreign ministry said the leaders would meet again in autumn. Armenian state TV said it will be in October.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian Christian enclave inside Azeri borders, declared independence in 1991 with support from Armenia and fought Muslim Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 35,000 people before a shaky ceasefire was signed in 1994.

No country has recognized Karabakh's independence.

The dispute led to Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey closing their borders with Armenia and remains one of the biggest threats to stability in the South Caucasus, a key route for oil and gas supplies from the Caspian region to Europe.

Azerbaijan's Huseinov said that his country believes "real steps on elimination of occupation" need to be made before any kind of agreement is signed.

Late on July 17, Sarkisian's press office issued a statement saying his talks with Aliyev earlier that day were held "in a constructive spirit" and that the two sides will continue negotiations aimed at a "peaceful settlement."

Efforts by international mediators under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), focused on finding a temporary solution to the problem including strong autonomy for Karabakh, have so far led nowhere.

Russia exerts strong leverage on both ex-Soviet states, and experts say mediation in Karabakh could consolidate Russia's strong role in the Southern Caucasus region.

The Kremlin's chief foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, who co-chairs the Minsk Group, which is mandated to act as an intermediary, was quoted by Interfax on July 18 as saying that the lengthy talks were "very constructive."