A U.S.-hosted meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan has begun in Washington as part of an effort to quell tensions over a checkpoint that Baku recently set up on the only road leading to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Before the start of the meeting on May 1, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had separate discussions with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov.
Mirzoyan and Blinken discussed issues related to stability and security in the region and the process of regulating relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reports, quoting official government sources.
The meeting between Mirzoyan and Bayramov is to last four days at a State Department facility outside Washington, AFP reported.
A U.S. official speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity said the talks aim more at “an agreement on normalization of relations” rather than a peace treaty.
“Our goal is to make sure the ministers can sit down and talk to each other,” the official said. The United States expects the two sides to have a forthright and frank discussion, the official said, adding “all the issues are being discussed.”
Asked about Russia’s position on the U.S.-led dialogue, another State Department official said, “We will be disappointed if they take it negatively.”
The most important thing is that the parties communicate with each other regardless of where, the official said, adding that “a lasting, balanced and dignified peace between the parties” is the goal.
Nagorno-Karabakh is home to mostly ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Baku committed to keeping the road open as part of a Russian-brokered cease-fire in 2020 that ended a six-week war.
On the eve of the talks, Blinken held a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and expressed the United States’ deep concern over the checkpoint, saying it undermines efforts to establish confidence in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process.
Azerbaijan said it had established the checkpoint in response to what it said were Armenian weapon supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. Yerevan denies that charge.
Blinken promised continued U.S. support for the peace talks and emphasized the importance of reopening the road, known as the Lachin Corridor, to commercial and private vehicles as soon as possible, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
According to a Baku government statement. Aliyev told Blinken the checkpoint “was established within the framework of Azerbaijan’s sovereign rights and in accordance with all international norms.”
Aliyev said its purpose is not to limit traffic but to ensure control, and said people are already passing through it.
Armenia called the checkpoint a gross violation of a 2020 cease-fire. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in his call with Blinken ahead of the Washington talks emphasized that the steps taken by Azerbaijan in the Lachin Corridor are aimed at the consistent implementation of its policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh and the complete depopulation of the enclave.
Pashinian emphasized the importance of an adequate response by the international community to Azerbaijan’s actions and taking active steps toward the unconditional implementation of the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The Hague-based ICJ ruled in February that Azerbaijan must “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”