The United States welcomed on Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming talks with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts that are meant to defuse increased tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
“We welcome Putin’s initiative to meet with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, wrote on his Twitter page. “We urge strict respect for the ceasefire.”
The separate talks scheduled to take place in Sochi on Saturday were announced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday following an upsurge in deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Lavrov did not rule out the possibility of a trilateral meeting between Putin, Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev.
Sarkisian on Thursday expressed readiness to meet Aliyev through a statement by his press office that announced his impending departure to Sochi. It said a trilateral meeting should focus on “issues related to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as the situation resulting from the recent escalation fomented by Azerbaijan.”
“Convinced that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement, the Armenian side has always been in favor of high-level meetings,” added the statement.
Later in the day, the chief of the Armenian presidential staff, Vigen Sargsian, met with the U.S. and Russian ambassadors and the French charge d’affaires in Yerevan to discuss the most recent Karabakh-related developments. A joint statement by the diplomats representing the Minsk Group co-chair countries said Sargsian “provided an update on the current situation.” It said they “expressed their hope the upcoming meetings in Sochi will contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
Aliyev’s office issued no statements on the Sochi talks. The Azerbaijani leader posted instead dozens of tweets blaming the Armenian side for the latest escalation and threatening it with a full-scale war. “The war is not over. Only the first stage of it is. But the second stage may start too,” read one of them.
It was announced earlier this week that Warlick and fellow diplomats from Russia and France co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group will not be present at Putin’s meetings with Sarkisian and Aliyev.
“We hope for constructive and positive meetings in Sochi,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan on Thursday. “But its results depend on Azerbaijan’s mood, on whether it will get back on the constructive path.” Nalbandian declined to comment further.
For his part, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian suggested on Wednesday that the Sochi talks represent an opportunity to resume Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue. “We all understand that dialogue is the necessary condition for a political settlement,” he told a news conference.
Still, Ohanian cautioned that while the talks initiated by Putin could ease tension on the frontlines they are unlikely to preclude further ceasefire violations.