Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs to meet in Washington amid peace efforts

Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs to meet in Washington amid peace efforts

Armenian and Azerbaijani top diplomats will hold talks in the U.S. next week, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Daily Sabah, citing Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Russian news agencies cited Pashinian as saying Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov would meet in Washington.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister rejected a demand from Armenia to provide special security guarantees for some 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in Karabakh ahead of a new round of peace talks.

The two sides have since been discussing a peace deal in which they would agree on borders, settle differences over the enclave, and unfreeze relations. In what looked like a breakthrough, Prime Minister Pashinian was quoted last month as saying Armenia did recognize that Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan but wanted Baku to provide guarantees for its ethnic Armenian population.

In an interview with Reuters, however, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov said such a guarantee was unnecessary, and the demand amounted to interference in Azerbaijan’s affairs.

“We don’t accept such a precondition … for a number of reasons,” he said.

“The most fundamental is the following: this is an internal, sovereign issue. The Azerbaijan constitution and a number of international conventions to which Azerbaijan is party provide all the necessary conditions to guarantee the rights of this population.”

He said ethnic Armenians could still use and be educated in their own language and preserve their culture if they integrated into Azerbaijani society and state structures like other ethnic and religious minorities.

Bayramov said there had been “some progress” in peace talks and that Baku was keen to strike a deal, but he also made comments that show how wide the gulf remains before he meets his Armenian counterpart for more talks in Washington next week:

“Why did it take the Armenian prime minister two-and-a-half years (since the war ended) to say he recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity?”

Bayramov, who was in London to attend a conference about Ukraine’s recovery, complained about the continued presence of thousands of Armenian troops on Azerbaijani territory.

Moscow – which has peacekeepers on the ground – and Washington and the European Union are all trying separately to help ensure lasting peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have fought two wars since the early 1990s and still have sporadic firefights.

Pashinian is under pressure at home to protect the rights of the ethnic Armenians living in the enclave as Baku pushes for the ethnic Armenian government and military structures to be dissolved and the population to accept Azerbaijani passports.

Azerbaijan Rejects Armenian Premier’s Claims on Lachin Road ‘Blocking’

Baku on Thursday denied claims made earlier in the day by Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian during a Cabinet meeting in Yerevan that Azerbaijan is “illegally blocking” the Lachin route.

A statement by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said it reminded Armenia that it was provocations by the Armenian military that obstructed the safe passages from the Lachin checkpoint, where it said it created “appropriate conditions” for the “transparent and safe passage” of Armenian residents of the Karabakh region.

“It seems that Armenia is resorting to such provocations because it is deprived of the illegal activities it carried out through the Lachin road after 2020, as well as because it is concerned about the positive approach demonstrated by Azerbaijan during the passage of the Armenian residents,” the statement said.

The statement rejected the Armenian claims that there is a “humanitarian crisis in the region” and Yerevan’s calls for the introduction of an “international mechanism” in dialogues between Baku and local Armenian residents, which the statement said is “an internal matter of Azerbaijan.”

“Azerbaijan is determined to implement relevant necessary measures for the reintegration of Armenian residents, and the invitation addressed to Armenian residents to discuss these and other issues is still valid,” the statement said.

The statement also said that Armenia’s use of this issue for “manipulation” and obstructing the region’s peace process is “unacceptable.”

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Karabakh-a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and seven adjacent regions.

In the fall of 2020, in 44 days of fighting, Azerbaijan liberated several cities, villages, and settlements from Armenian occupation. The Russian-brokered peace agreement is celebrated as a triumph in Azerbaijan.

Despite ongoing peace agreement talks between Baku and Yerevan, tensions between the neighboring countries have escalated in recent months due to the Lachin corridor, which serves as the sole land route providing Armenia access to Karabakh.

Baku says the Lachin checkpoint is necessary to prevent the smuggling of military supplies into the enclave and illegally-mined materials. It denies Armenian allegations that it has imposed a blockade that makes life miserable for Karabakh’s inhabitants.

Bayramov said a peace deal was within reach if Armenia was ready to take certain steps.

“If there is a will not only to make statements but do some practical steps, I think that potentially it’s possible to reach an agreement even earlier than the end of the year,” he said.

“But if there’s no real readiness … it might be later.”