“As you know, Secretary Blinken is personally invested in this process; he’s demonstrated that personal investment by bringing together … his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan by speaking with them regularly,” the department spokesman, Ned Price, told a news briefing in Washington. “I expect he’ll have an opportunity in the coming days to re-engage by phone with his counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
Blinken most recently hosted face-to-face talks between the two ministers in Washington on November 7. He phoned Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev later in November. He urged the two sides to “schedule further talks as agreed in Washington,” according to the State Department.
Aliyev and Pashinian were scheduled to meet in Brussels on December 7 for further talks hosted by the European Union’s top official, Charles Michel. However, the Azerbaijani leader cancelled the summit, objecting to French President Emmanuel Macron’s participation in it.
On December 12, Azerbaijani protesters blocked the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia on ostensibly environmental grounds. Yerevan condemned that as a gross violation of the Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Citing the continuing blockade, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan refused to meet with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov on December 23 for talks that were due to be hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
In separate comments to the Armenpress news agency, Price said the United States remains concerned about the closure of Karabakh’s vital land link with Armenia.
“This sets back the peace process and undermines international confidence,” he said. “We call for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor.”
Azerbaijan rejected similar statements made by U.S. as well as European Union officials earlier. It says that the Azerbaijani protesters are right to demand that Baku be allowed to inspect “illegal” mining operations in Karabakh.
Price also announced on Wednesday the retirement of Philip Reeker, a senior State Department adviser for Caucasus negotiations and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Reeker has held that post since August.
“Since the beginning of Ambassador Reeker’s appointment in August of last year, it was always understood and expected that he would serve in this position on a short-term basis until the end of last year,” Price told journalists.
The State Department spokesman did not say whether Reeker will be replaced by another U.S. diplomat.