U.S., Russian and French mediators have urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to gear up for “serious substantive negotiations” on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after recent deadly clashes on their border.
In a weekend statement, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group also welcomed the current “relative stability” along a section of the border where heavy fighting broke out on July 12 and left at least 17 soldiers from both sides dead.
The hostilities largely stopped on July 16. The conflicting parties have since reported sporadic ceasefire violations mainly involving small arms.
An Armenian army soldier, Ashot Mikaelian, was shot dead at the volatile border section early on Monday in what the Defense Ministry in Yerevan described as Azerbaijani sniper fire.
“The Co-Chairs appeal to the sides to take advantage of the current reduction in active hostilities to prepare for serious substantive negotiations to find a comprehensive solution to the conflict,” read the statement. “The Co-Chairs stress once more that refraining from provocative statements and actions, including threats or perceived threats to civilians or to critical infrastructure, is essential during this delicate period.”
“The Co-Chairs note that recent public statements criticizing the joint efforts of the co-chairing countries, and/or seeking unilaterally to establish new “conditions” or changes to the settlement process format are not conducive to resuming a constructive dialogue,” it said.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev lambasted the mediators and threatened to withdraw from further peace talks just days before the flare-up on the border between Armenia’s northern Tavush province and Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district. Aliyev specifically blasted their regular assertions that the Karabakh conflict cannot be solved militarily.
For his part, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said last Thursday that Karabakh must become a “full-fledged party to negotiations” mediated by the Minsk Group co-chairs. The remark led Azerbaijan to claim that Armenia is seeking to change the format of peace talks. Baku has long refused to directly negotiate with the disputed territory’s ethnic Armenian leadership.
In their latest statement, the mediators -- Andrew Schofer, Igor Popov and Stephane Visconti -- expressed readiness to meet soon with Aliyev and Pashinian “or their designees.” Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, they have not visited the conflict zone or met Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders elsewhere, organizing instead two video conferences with the foreign ministers of the two warring nations.
The American, Russian and French envoys also emphasized that they continue to stand for a Karabakh settlement the key elements of which they had laid out in a March 2019 statement.
In that statement they said that “any fair and lasting settlement” must involve “return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.”