Armenia-Azerbaijan Talks In Washington To Last ‘A Few Days’

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WASHINGTON (Azatutyun) — Bilateral talks between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington will be held over the course of “a few days”, according to a senior official in the United States privy to the details of the negotiations schedule.

“Both parties have acknowledged that this is the first time that they will be able to meet over the course of a few days,” the official said. “We expect discussions throughout the week. Our goal is to make sure that the ministers are able to sit down and talk to each other.”

The first bilateral meeting between Ararat Mirzoyan, of Armenia, and Jeyhun Bayramov, of Azerbaijan, took place on Monday, May 1, and followed their separate meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as their trilateral meeting in Washington.

Prior to the meetings Blinken said in phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev — that the United States remained committed to supporting the peace efforts of the two countries.

The official at the State Department said that the Washington talks between Mirzoyan and Bayramov were focused on trying to hammer out an agreement on “normalization of relations.”

“It is for both parties to normalize their relations to be able to live together […], to strengthen their economic ties and perhaps even to reinforce their collective security in the region,” he said, adding that all issues, including issues of how ethnic minorities are treated in both countries in terms of their rights and security, are “being discussed.”

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Another senior US official familiar with the negotiations said that “rights and security are something that we believe is very important in terms of what the future of the region looks like, is something that we have continuously engaged with throughout the region, and we will continue to be engaged on.”

The official also reiterated the importance of ensuring free movement of commercial and private vehicles along the Lachin Corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh that was completely blocked by Azerbaijan on April 23 when it established a checkpoint at the entrance to the five-kilometer-wide corridor. .

Blinken, before the meeting, over the weekend, pledged Washington’s continued support for peace efforts by Armenia and Azerbaijan as he spoke over the phone separately with the leaders of the two countries.

The readout of Blinken’s phone call with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan released by a Department of State spokesperson on April 29 said that the US secretary of state spoke with the Armenian leader “to underscore the importance of Armenia-Azerbaijan peace discussions and pledged continued US support.”

“Secretary Blinken reiterated that direct dialogue and diplomacy are the only path to a lasting peace in the South Caucasus. He expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister’s continued commitment to the peace process,” he added.

The next day Blinken repeated the message of the importance of peace discussions and continued US support in his phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during which he also “shared his belief that peace was possible.”

The phone calls came amid heightened tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan after Baku on April 23 set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

Azerbaijan’s roadblock tightened what was already an effective blockade of the region by government-backed Azerbaijani protesters since December.

According to a spokesperson in Washington, during his April 30 phone call with Aliyev Blinken also “expressed the United States’ deep concern that Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process, and emphasized the importance of reopening the Lachin corridor to commercial and private vehicles as soon as possible.”

According to his press office, Pashinyan also raised the issue of the Lachin corridor in his phone call with Blinken. In particular, he reportedly emphasized that “the steps taken by the Azerbaijani side in the Lachin corridor are aimed at the consistent implementation of its policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh and the complete eviction of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The Armenian prime minister also “emphasized the importance of the adequate response of the international community to Azerbaijan’s actions, which undermine regional security, and taking active steps towards the unconditional implementation of the order of the International Court of Justice.”

The Hague-based court ruled on February 22 that the Azerbaijani government must “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin corridor in both directions.”

 

Azerbaijan Issues Preconditions

Before the meeting, Armenia responded to a number of preconditions Azerbaijan had set forth for achieving normalization between the two countries, stating that Baku’s policies “do not contribute to reducing tensions and establishing peace in the region.”

Azerbaijan’s permanent representative to the United Nations recently advanced as many as eight preconditions to Armenia, including the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian withdrawal from eight occupied Azerbaijani villages and Armenia’s refusal to have territorial claims to Azerbaijan.

In written comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service regarding these preconditions a spokesperson for Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “far-fetched narratives and demands of the Azerbaijani side are changing day by day, and not only for the Republic of Armenia, but, we think, also for the entire international community, it is already difficult to follow the speculations of the Azerbaijani side.”

Ani Badalyan said that the armed forces of Armenia served only in the sovereign territory of the republic. She stressed that the defense forces in Nagorno-Karabakh were made up of local ethnic Armenians.

“It is known that since the 1990s, in order to protect themselves against the aggression carried out by Azerbaijan and prevent mass violence against the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenians of Karabakh formed the Defense Army, which still carries out its service in order to prevent the implementation of the mentioned operations planned by Azerbaijan decades ago,” she said.

“The Defense Army was and remains relevant only because of the ethnic cleansing policy pursued by Azerbaijan, including physical and psychological intimidation of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, murders, periodic violations of the ceasefire, blocking of the Lachin Corridor, interruptions in the supply of food and medicine to Nagorno-Karabakh, disruptions in natural gas and electricity supply,” the representative of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs added.

Commenting on Azerbaijan’s claim regarding “eight Azerbaijani villages occupied by Armenia,” Badalyan reminded that still back in the 1990s Azerbaijan occupied the Armenian village of Artsvashen, the arable lands of the villages of Vazashen and Aygeovit in the Tavush region and 70 percent of the arable land of the villages of Berkaber and Paravakar. She said that after the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, as a result of renewed aggression, Azerbaijan occupied another 150 square kilometers of sovereign Armenian territory.

“It is surprising that about the occupation of territories by Armenia speak officials of a country, the top leadership of which openly makes claims regarding the sovereign territories of Armenia, sometimes also stating that there is no border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and therefore it is not violated as a result of the advancement of their armed forces. The president of Azerbaijan has repeatedly openly admitted the occupation of the territories of the Republic of Armenia, threatening to seize new territories through the use of force if his maximalist demands are not met,” she said.

The spokesperson of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also noted that Armenia’s calls to Azerbaijan to respect the border recognized by both countries in the Alma-Ata Declaration adopted by former Soviet republics amid disintegration of the USSR in 1991, as well as to provide legal justifications for claims regarding some of the mentioned villages remained unanswered.

“Moreover, the proposal of the Armenian side on a mirror withdrawal of troops from the 1975 border, which would definitely help to reduce border tensions and solve a number of existing problems, also remained unanswered,” she added.

The representative of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stressed Azerbaijan’s “changing narrative” on the situation with the blocking of the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

 

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