Ending a visit to Yerevan, Burns also said that the United States is continuing to press Turkey to normalize its relations with Armenia.
“It’s obvious to all of us that there is no military solution to this [Karabakh] conflict,” he told journalists. “And it’s also obvious, it seems to me, that the status quo is not sustainable.”
“Therefore it’s important to approach this challenge with a sense of urgency,” he said.
Burns gave no indications that Washington will now seek a larger role in the negotiating peace and push harder for an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal. “I would simply re-emphasize the commitment of the United States to doing everything that we can to help bring about a lasting peaceful settlement,” he said.
Russia, which co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group with the U.S. and France, has been the most active player in the Karabakh conflict mediation in recent years. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has hosted about a dozen meetings between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts.
But the latter have so far failed to iron out their differences on the basic principles of a peaceful settlement put forward by the three mediating powers. The impasse is fuelling growing fears of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Karabakh was high on the agenda of what Burns called “excellent and productive” talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian held on Wednesday. The U.S. official discussed the unresolved dispute with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Tuesday.
Burns said he also discussed with the Armenian leaders the stalled process of normalizing Armenia’s relations with Turkey. “We appreciate Armenia’s commitment to normalization of relations with Turkey,” he said. “We support the Turkey-Armenia protocols [signed in 2009] and hope that they will be ratified, creating a better future for both countries.”
Burns declined to comment on Yerevan’s threats to formally annul the protocols if Ankara continues to make their parliamentary ratification contingent on Karabakh peace. He said only that Washington believes both sides should implement the normalization deal “as quickly as possible.”
“We continue to encourage our partners in Turkey to move in that direction,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly pressed the Turkish leaders to drop the Karabakh linkage when she visited Istanbul in July. However, the Turkish government remains adamant in linking the two issues.
Echoing statements by other U.S. diplomats, Burns further stressed the importance of the proper conduct of Armenia’s next parliamentary and presidential elections due in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
“Since 2012 is an election year, we discussed [with Sarkisian] the importance of establishing an electoral environment conducive to free and fair elections,” he said. “This means not only what happens on election day but what happens in the wider democratic process, including encouraging vibrant and diverse media so that citizens can make well-informed independent choices.”