US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried is interviewed by RFE / RL in Yerevan, June 18, 2022

By Heghine Buniatian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — The United States is willing to continue to cooperate with Russia in facilitating a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried insisted over the weekend.

The US, Russia and France have for decades jointly tried to broker an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord in their capacity as the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. According to Russian officials, Washington and Paris stopped working with Moscow in the Minsk Group format following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Donfried denied this as she visited Armenia on the last leg of her tour of the three South Caucasus states.

“The US has continued to say that we support the Minsk Group co-chair process,” she told RFE / RL’s Armenian Service in an interview. “We continue to believe that it is a very important format, particularly on Nagorno-Karabakh, and it is essential that we keep various formats in play to try to advance peace. And we will continue to do that going forward. “

Asked whether Washington is ready for fresh contacts with Moscow for that purpose, Donfried said: “Yes. Russia is a Minsk Group co-chair. France, the US and Russia would continue in that format.”

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In recent weeks, Armenian leaders have called for renewed joint activities of US, Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reportedly discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a June 1 phone.

By contrast, Azerbaijani officials and President Ilham Aliyev in particular have repeatedly questioned the need for the Minsk Group’s continued existence. Aliyev has said that the war in Ukraine has effectively put an end to that joint mediation framework.

“Azerbaijan has not been supportive of the Minsk Group co-chair process, the United States is,” Donfried said. “We are a participant in that process and we will continue to do so.”

The US official met with Aliyev in Baku before proceeding to Yerevan for talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held on Saturday, June 18. She said that in both capitals she “felt a desire for peaceful settlement.”

Aliyev on June 16 implicitly threatened to resort to military action if Armenia continues to oppose the opening of a land corridor connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave. Officials in Yerevan responded by reiterating that Armenian-Azerbaijani agreements brokered by Russia call for only conventional transport links between the two South Caucasus states.

Commenting on Aliyev’s bellicose rhetoric, Donfried said: “There is no question that words matter and so we need to be thoughtful about the words that we use. I think actions matter as well but if there is going to be forward progress towards reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia there is no question that people need to be mindful about their words.”

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