STEPANAKERT — Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership turned down last month a U.S. offer to negotiate with Baku on the Armenian-populated region’s “integration” into Azerbaijan, a senior official in Stepanakert said on Monday.

“There was a proposal of a direct Stepanakert-Baku dialogue mediated by America,” Artur Harutiunyan, the parliamentary leader of Karabakh’s ruling party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “The issues that were supposed to be discussed were, in essence, an agenda pushed by Azerbaijan.”

This is why, he said, Stepanakert refused to attend the U.S.-mediated talks planned in an unnamed third country. The Karabakh leaders want to discuss instead the lifting of the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin corridor and other humanitarian issues, added Harutiunyan.

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda claimed in mid-June that the United States has issued an ultimatum to the Karabakh Armenians, saying that they must negotiate on Azerbaijan’s terms or risk a “use of force.” Official Moscow was quick to express concern over the report, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova effectively accusing Washington of resorting to “threats” and “blackmail.”

Commenting on the report, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said only that Washington welcomes any dialogue that could help to secure “the rights and security” of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population.

The U.S. State Department raised eyebrows in Stepanakert and Yerevan in late May when it welcomed “amnesty” offered to Karabakh’s leaders by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the condition of their “surrender” to Baku. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Aliyev’s statement “contained clear threats” to Karabakh’s security.

Karabakh president, Arayik Harutyunyan, said last week that Karabakh will continue to assert its right to self-determination despite mounting pressure from Azerbaijan.

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