WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken telephoned the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan late on Monday to discuss ways of kick-starting Armenian-Azerbaijani talks on a peace deal sought by Western powers.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Blinken discussed issues related to the regional agenda,  bilateral relations and Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a readout.

The humanitarian issues of over 100,000 forcibly displaced persons of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Armenian government’s steps aimed at overcoming these issues were also discussed. The importance of support by the international community was underscored.

Blinkens separate phone calls followed Baku’s cancellation of a meeting in Washington of the Armenian-Azerbaijani foreign ministers scheduled for November 20. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry blamed the move on what it described as pro-Armenian statements made by James O’Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.

Speaking during a congressional hearing in Washington on November 15, O’Brien condemned Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and warned Baku against attacking Armenia to open a land corridor to its Nakhichevan exclave.

“We’ve made clear that nothing will be normal with Azerbaijan after the events of September 19 until we see progress on the peace track,” he said, adding that Washington has cancelled “high-level visits” by Azerbaijani officials and suspended military and other aid to Baku.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev complained about O’Brien’s comments during his phone conversation with Blinken. According to Azerbaijani media, Aliyev agreed to receive the senior U.S. diplomat in Baku in December in return for Blinken’s pledge to lift the “unfounded ban on Azerbaijani officials’ visits to the United States.”

“The Secretary welcomed President Aliyev’s commitment to conclude a durable and dignified peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said in a statement on the call.

Blinken also “noted recent points of concern” in U.S.-Azerbaijani relations and discussed “opportunities to strengthen cooperation, especially around the peace process,” added Miller.

He did not say whether Blinken and Aliyev agreed on a new date for the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in Washington. The press offices of Aliyev and Pashinyan also did not report such an agreement.

O’Brien questioned Aliyev’s commitment to signing a Western-backed treaty with Armenia when he testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee two weeks ago. The peace accord would commit Baku to formally recognizing Armenia’s current borders.

Speaking to journalists earlier on Monday, O’Brien said there is still a “real opportunity for Azerbaijan and Armenia to make peace.” He warned at the same time that the U.S. is ready to “use whatever tools we could” to prevent Baku from forcibly opening the corridor through Armenian territory.

“So we’ve been very clear with the parties about what we hope to see and about the consequences of moving forward otherwise,” added the U.S. official.

 

 

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