WASHINGTON, DC — The United States has been discouraging Azerbaijan from escalating tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“I’ve been very actively and directly engaged with leadership in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, trying to help advance prospects for a long-term political settlement in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh,” Blinken told the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate during a hearing held on Tuesday.
“We have been trying to push back on any unilateral actions, particularly by Azerbaijan, that would only inflame the situation, and we have a number of programs in place that are part of the budget to try to help advance more peaceful prospects,” he said without elaborating.
Blinken pointed to his recent phone calls with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as well as the foreign ministers of the two South Caucasus states.
During his conversations with Aliyev and Pashinyan, he called for “restraint, de-escalation, and renewed diplomacy,” according to the U.S. State Department.
Blinken phoned the two leaders on April 5 more than a week after Azerbaijani troops seized a village in eastern Karabakh and tried to push deeper into the territory, sparking deadly fighting with Karabakh Armenian forces.
The State Department deplored the Azerbaijani troop movements, calling them “irresponsible and unnecessarily provocative.” Baku rejected the criticism.
Speaking during Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Robert Menendez, .chairman of the Senate committee, accused Baku of trying to “eliminate the presence of Armenians” living in Karabakh. Menendez also criticized the U.S. government for continuing to seek greater U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia.
Referencing the Government Accounting Office’s (GAO) report publicly released last month, Chairman Menendez highlighted that the Department of State and Department of Defense failed to comply with reporting requirements for reviewing U.S. assistance to the Government of Azerbaijan in terms of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act.
In response, Secretary Blinken stated he was “happy to go back and take a look at the specifics of the concerns [Chairman Menendez] has raised about the inadequacy of the reporting.”
“Section 907 is an annual decision and we have interagency review and that review is underway, but I take what you [Chairman Menendez] say seriously,” said Secretary Blinken.