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Azerbaijan on Friday denounced the U.S., Russian and French mediators for deploring the release of axe-killer Ramil Safarov and accused them of doing little to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group may be “abusing” the affair to justify the deadlock in the Karabakh peace process.

“Somebody needed an excuse and they found it in the Ramil Safarov case,” Azimov told journalists in Baku, according to the APA news agency. “As if there was any progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before Ramil Safarov was set free. Did the Armenians give us any hope for the conflict’s resolution?”

The co-chairs held separate crisis talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris shortly after Safarov was controversially pardoned and promoted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. In an ensuing joint statement, they expressed “deep concern” at the pardon, saying that it undermined their efforts to broker a peaceful settlement.

“I’m telling you, there was no development in the negotiating process even before the Ramil Safarov case as the Armenians constantly stuck to a negative approach,” Azimov said. “The co-chairs were only playing for time, going there and coming here. Frankly speaking, they didn’t distinguish themselves with serious work.”

President Serzh Sarkisian defended the mediators and blamed Azerbaijan for the impasse later on Friday. He said Safarov’s release was the latest in a series of Azerbaijani “provocations” aimed at torpedoing the peace process. “Both we and the international community have more than clearly expressed our position in connection with this,” he said.

Speaking at an official reception in Yerevan, Sarkisian also made clear that despite the fallout from the Safarov affair Armenia will “look for ways of continuing negotiations” with the Azerbaijani side.

“I do realize that in these conditions it is very difficult to prepare our society for reconciliation or even peace [with Azerbaijan,] but that is the way to go,” he said. “Preparing for peace does not mean being unprepared for war and self-defense.”

It is still not clear whether the mediators plan fresh Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in the coming weeks. They have announced no plans yet to arrange a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Both ministers are expected to address the assembly next week.
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