The chief U.S. negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process on Monday urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet before the end of this year and defuse mounting tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone.
James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, also called on the conflicting parties to stop using mortars and other heavy weapons in ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the “line of contact” around Karabakh.
“What we need to do is to stop that,” he told reporters in Yerevan. “Quite frankly, I would like to see a commitment from the sides not to use heavy weapons because they are so dangerous. There is also the risk of escalation in using these weapons.”
Warlick said that growing use of such weapons by the warring sides in recent months has already resulted in a “considerable escalation” of the situation on the frontlines. More than a dozen soldiers and civilians from both sides were killed in the most recent upsurge of fighting there last month.
Responding to that escalation, Warlick and the two other Minsk Group co-chairs representing Russia and France renewed their calls for the parties to set up a mechanism for international investigations of truce violations. Unlike Baku, Yerevan and Karabakh’s leadership have repeatedly backed the idea.
“We do need to have an investigative mechanism,” emphasized Warlick. He insisted that it “has not been rejected in Baku.”
Warlick met the press in the Armenian capital at the start of the co-chairs’ latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy. They held talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian later in the day and will travel to Stepanakert and Baku later this week.
The mediating troika has spent the last few months trying to arrange a fresh meeting between Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev which they think could revive the stalled peace process.
“We do not yet have a date [for the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit] but we do want to discuss dates with the presidents,” Warlick said. “I believe that you have a referendum [on changes to Armenia’s constitution] coming up in early December. I think it would need to take place after that referendum but, I hope, before the end of the year.”
“Given the level of violence and given the issues under discussion, now is the time for another meeting,” added the envoy.