Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, arrived in the Armenian capital late on Wednesday from Baku where he met with President Ilham Aliyev and other Azerbaijani officials.
The unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh and, in particular, an ongoing military standoff on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border were the main theme of his talks held in the two capitals.
“As we made very clear in statements from Washington, we would like to see both parties pull back to positions, relocate to where they were on May 11,” Reeker told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service after meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and senior Armenian diplomats.
He said the troop disengagement is essential for preventing shootouts and other violent incidents at border sections where Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers have been facing off against each other for the past month. It should be followed by a demarcation of the long and mountainous frontier, he said, adding that Washington is ready to provide “technical expertise” for that purpose.
The State Department similarly urged both sides to “return to their previous positions and cease military fortification of the non-demarcated border” in a statement issued on May 27. A department spokeswoman said earlier that Baku should “pull back all forces immediately and cease further provocation.”
Pashinian proposed on May 27 that Armenia and Azerbaijan withdraw their troops from the disputed border areas and let Russia and/or the United States and France, the two other countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, deploy observers there. He also called for the launch of a process of “ascertaining border points” supervised by the international community.
Asked whether the U.S. supports the idea of an observation mission, Reeker said: “The talk of some sort of a peacekeeping mechanism or observers has long been part of the co-chair process. For many, many years that’s been discussed.”
According to an Armenian government statement, Pashinian told Reeker that Baku must withdraw its forces from Armenia’s “sovereign territory” and unconditionally free all Armenian soldiers and civilians remaining in Azerbaijani captivity seven months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war in Karabakh.
“I have expressed concern, as has the United States government repeatedly, over the need to have all prisoners, all detainees freed and returned home,” Reeker said in this regard, commenting on his talks in Yerevan and Baku.