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Azerbaijan President Sees Karabakh Talks In 'Final Phase'

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev
BAKU (Reuters) -- Talks between Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region are in a final phase, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has said.

Christian ethnic Armenians, backed by Armenia, fought a war in the 1990s to end mainly Muslim Azerbaijan's control over mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh.

There was little sign of any peace deal until this year, when Azerbaijan's close ally Turkey began to thaw its own ties with Armenia.

"Positive dynamics are observed in the negotiation process, and I can say that the negotiation process is already in its final phase," Aliyev said on October 3 at a summit of Turkic-speaking nations in Azerbaijan's autonomous region of Nakhchivan.

The speech was shown by Azeri television channels.

Mediators from the United States, France and Russia say they are hopeful of a breakthrough when Aliyev meets his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on October 8.

Aliyev maintained his insistence, however, that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity must be preserved in any settlement.

The Nagorno-Karabakh peace effort has been spurred on by Turkey's drive to restore relations with Armenia.

Turkey closed the common frontier in 1993 in solidarity with oil-producing Azerbaijan, which now fears losing leverage over Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict if these ties are restored.

Turkey and Armenia are expected to sign protocols this month on establishing diplomatic ties and opening the border, before submitting them to parliament for approval.

Under the deal, the border should reopen within two months of ratification, possibly by the New Year.