BAKU (RFE/RL) — Azerbaijan on Thursday accused the chief U.S. negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process of favoring the Armenian side and indicated its intention to demand his replacement by the United States.
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov claimed that James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, has been “deliberately taking steps aimed at satisfying the interests of the Armenian side and promoting separatism.”
“Mr. Warlick allows himself to arbitrarily interpret the norms and principles of international law that are at the heart of a settlement and, incidentally, define the mandate and clear bounds of the mediators’ activities,” Azimov told the pro-government APA news agency.
“Despite Mr. Warlick’s statements on the need for the [Minsk Group] co-chairs to maintain neutrality, the American co-chair’s activities show the opposite,” he said. “The prearranged character of Mr. Warlick’s pronouncements, essentially aimed at justifying the unconstructive position which Armenia continues to adopt in the negotiations, is evident.”
Azimov specifically referred to Warlick’s regular Twitter posts regarding the Karabakh conflict. In particular, he pointed to the American diplomat’s recent implicit suggestion that the conflict has pitted Azerbaijan against Karabakh, rather than Armenia. He described as “provocative” another tweet in which Warlick cited concerns that “violence could escalate between Armenia and Azerbaijan” because of the crisis in Ukraine.
These and other statements, continued Azimov, give Baku reason to “express no confidence” in the U.S. mediator and demand his recall. “Warlick is giving the Azerbaijani side no other choice,” he said.
There was no official reaction to the extraordinary allegations from Washington as of Thursday evening.
Incidentally, Warlick was among U.S. officials, lawmakers and other dignitaries who were invited to a two-day U.S.-Azerbaijani forum that was organized by a pro-Azerbaijani group in Washington earlier this week. “Azerbaijan has strong support in Washington for a strategic partnership. Thank you for including me in tonight’s gala dinner,” the U.S. co-chair tweeted late on Wednesday.
“Azerbaijanis approached me at tonight’s gala dinner about an NK (Karabakh) settlement. The US stands ready to help the sides find a lasting peace,” he said in a separate post.
Azimov complained to APA that Warlick maintains more contacts with the Armenian-American community than the much smaller Azerbaijani Diaspora in the United States.
In his public statements, Warlick has also consistently advocated direct contacts between Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society members, saying that they are important for a Karabakh settlement. The Azerbaijani government is now cracking down on three prominent Azerbaijani participants of the “people-to-people diplomacy” on Karabakh sponsored by Western governments and private institutions.
One of them, journalist and political analyst Rauf Mirkadyrov, was arrested on April 20 on charges of high treason reportedly stemming from his repeated trips to Armenia. The U.S. State Department expressed serious concern over the arrest
Human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif were briefly detained and questioned by Azerbaijani security services in connection with the same espionage case on April 28. Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service afterwards that Yunus’s case is “very troubling” and that the Washington will convey that message to the authorities in Baku.