Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain)

WASHINGTON (Politico/Azatutyun)  — Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned a small group of lawmakers last week that his department is tracking the possibility that Azerbaijan could soon invade Armenia, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

The call indicates the depth of concern in the administration about Azerbaijan’s operations against a breakaway region in the west of the country and the possibility of the conflict spreading.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has previously called on Armenia to open a “corridor” along its southern border, linking mainland Azerbaijan to an exclave that borders Turkey and Iran. Aliyev has threatened to solve the issue “by force.”

In an October 3 phone call, lawmakers pressed Blinken on possible measures against Aliyev in response to his country’s invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September, the people said, who were granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive call.

Blinken responded that the State Department was looking at avenues to hold Azerbaijan accountable and isn’t planning to renew a long-standing waiver that allows the U.S. to provide military assistance to Baku. He added that State saw a possibility that Azerbaijan would invade southern Armenia in the coming weeks.

Still, Blinken expressed confidence about ongoing diplomatic talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan to the Democratic lawmakers, among them Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Anna Eshoo of California, and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

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Two additional people confirmed that a briefing happened on the situation in Azerbaijan, but did not provide details.

In a statement, the State Department declined to comment on the call, but emphasized the department’s commitment to “Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and resolving conflict through “direct talks.”

Interestingly, on October 16, the US State Department denied the report saying that Blinken has not ruled out the possibility that Azerbaijan will invade Armenia in the coming weeks.

“The reporting in this article is inaccurate and in no way reflects what Secretary Blinken said to lawmakers,” the State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, told Armenia’s Armenpress news agency on Sunday.

“The United States strongly supports Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have stressed that any infringement of that sovereignty and territorial integrity would bring serious consequences,” Miller said in written comments.

(The Armenian Mirror-Spectator reached out to the offices of Pelosi, Eshoo and Pallone. Only Pelosi’s office responded, saying they would decline to comment.)

The decision to hold off on renewing the waiver is also telling. Every year since 2002, the U.S. has issued the waiver, allowing it to sidestep a provision of the Freedom Support Act that bars the U.S. from providing military assistance to Azerbaijan in light of its ongoing territorial disputes with Armenia. The waiver lapsed in June and State had previously provided no explanation as to why it hadn’t yet requested a renewal

Since the briefing, Pallone has said publicly that he’s worried Azerbaijan could invade soon. “Aliyev is moving forward with his objective to take Southern Armenia,” Pallone tweeted Wednesday, arguing that “his regime is emboldened after facing little consequences” for invading Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan’s military incursion into that region last month prompted more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh to flee. Local leaders capitulated as part of a Russia-brokered surrender and agreed to dissolve their three-decades-old unrecognized state. Azerbaijani forces have since detained more than a dozen ex-leaders.

In a September 20 statement, Blinken said he was “deeply concerned by Azerbaijan’s military actions” and declared that “the use of force to resolve disputes is unacceptable.”

But Nagorno-Karabakh is not the only territorial dispute between the two Caucasus countries. Baku has proposed a route to the Nakhichevan exclave that would cut through Armenia’s southern Syunik region, known in Azerbaijani as Zangezur, and enable road traffic to bypass Iran.

Aliyev has said “we will be implementing the Zangezur Corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not.”

Tigran Balayan, the Armenian ambassador to the European Union, similarly claimed on October 8 that Azerbaijani forces could soon try to open an extraterritorial land corridor to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave through Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. He said the West should impose sanctions on Baku to prevent such an attack.

Syunik is the only Armenian province bordering Iran. Tehran has repeatedly warned against attempts to strip it of the common border and transport links with Armenia.


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