The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met near Moscow for talks on Nagorny Karabakh, a disputed Azerbaijani province with a largely Armenian population that fought a war for independence in which 30,000 died before a 1994 cease-fire.
The leaders of bitter ex-Soviet rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan met for talks Sunday near Moscow as Russia cast itself as peacemaker for the Caucasus after its August war there with Georgia.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian smiled and shook hands in front of reporters before entering talks to resolve their frozen war over the disputed province of Nagorny Karabakh.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who in August oversaw Russia's war with Georgia -- which borders both Armenia and Azerbaijan -- was also present for the talks at his residence in Barvikha near Moscow.
An enclave of Azerbaijan with a largely ethnic Armenian population, Nagorny Karabakh broke free of Baku's control in the early 1990s in a war that killed nearly 30,000 people and forced two million to flee their homes.
A ceasefire was signed in 1994 but the dispute remains unresolved after years of negotiations. Shootings between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the region are common.
Medvedev in October launched a fresh push to end the long-simmering conflict during a visit to Armenia.
At the meeting Sarkisian said he was ready for talks with Azerbaijan on the basis of principles worked out at negotiations in Madrid last year under a plan that would give Nagorny Karabakh the right to self-determination.
The Kremlin would act as guarantor of a new accord, an administration official was quoted as saying on Saturday.
"Russia would be prepared to support a resolution to problem that suits both sides and act as guarantor if a compromise deal is reached," the unnamed Kremlin official said, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
A resolution would "allow the return of stability and calm in the South Caucasus and in the post-conflict period maintain the historical balance of power in the region" the official said.
Russia in August sent troops and tanks into Georgia after Tbilisi moved to retake its rebel region of South Ossetia. The conflict raised fears of a re-eruption of violence in nearby Nagorny Karabakh.
Moscow is vying for influence with Washington in Azerbaijan, a key energy exporter that ships oil and gas through Western-backed pipelines through Georgia and Turkey, bypassing Russia.
The Kremlin could strengthen its position in the region by pushing close ally Armenia toward compromise on the issue, analysts said.
Date created : 2008-11-02