The United States has chided the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan for not holding face-to-face talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the sidelines of an international security forum held late last week.
Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov were expected to meet in Basel, Switzerland during an annual gathering of top diplomats from countries aligned in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They avoided such an encounter, meeting only separately with the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
In a weekend tweet, the U.S. co-chair, James Warlick, said Washington “regrets” that the two men “were unable to meet” in the Swiss city. “Dialogue is a necessary part of the peace process,” he said.
Reflecting heightened tensions that followed last month’s downing of an Armenian military helicopter near Karabakh, Nalbandian and Mammadyarov traded fresh accusations in their speeches delivered at the December 4-5 conference.
In particular, Nalbandian claimed that Azerbaijan only “imitates” support for peace proposals made by the three mediating powers. He said Baku rejected the most recent versions of their Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement that were presented to the conflicting parties in 2010 and 2011. He also reiterated the official Armenian line that those principles can “serve as the basis” of an Armenian-Azerbaijan peace deal.
For his part, Mammadyarov repeated Baku’s claims that the Armenian side is keen to maintain the Karabakh status quo at any cost. He also denounced as “provocative” large-scale Armenian military exercises that were held in and around Karabakh last month.
The drills were marred by the November 12 shooting down by Azerbaijani forces of an Armenian helicopter gunship flying along “the line of contact” east of the disputed territory. The incident raised fresh fears of renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities. In his speech, Nalbandian condemned the helicopter’s downing as a “criminal provocation.”
Later on December 4, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a senior French official issued a joint statement in Basel urging the conflicting parties to avoid a further escalation and take “additional actions to reinforce the ceasefire.” They also said the two sides should start negotiating “as soon as possible” on a “comprehensive peace agreement.”
Speaking to Armenian reporters afterwards, Nalbandian said such talks could get underway only after the parties bridge their differences on the Basic Principles. He stressed that the proposed framework accord has to be approved by Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership as well.
Nalbandian also claimed that at his most recent meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian held in Paris in October Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev rejected a set of confidence-building measures that were proposed by their French counterpart Francois Hollande.