U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stepped in to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The move comes after Azerbaijan called off a planned meeting in Washington following critical comments from James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.
Stepping into a Diplomatic Row
In a phone conversation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Blinken highlighted the 'enduring relations with Azerbaijan', but also acknowledged recent issues in the relationship. The call was seen as an attempt to bring the U.S. back into the center of the talks amid a diplomatic row between Washington and Baku.
Earlier in November, O'Brien had voiced criticisms of Azerbaijan's military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh and announced the cancellation of several high-level visits to Azerbaijan. This led to almost all of its 100,000 residents, predominantly ethnic Armenians, fleeing to Armenia and triggering a refugee crisis.
Azrebaijan's Response and Blinken's Promise
Aliyev expressed to Blinken that the recent actions taken by the U.S. have 'seriously damaged Azerbaijan-U.S. relations.' However, it was agreed that O'Brien would visit Azerbaijan in December, and Blinken assured Aliyev of his intention to lift the ban on Azerbaijani officials visiting the U.S.
In a separate call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Blinken underlined the U.S.'s support for efforts to establish a lasting and honorable peace agreement. Despite the lack of progress in internationally mediated peace talks so far, both countries' leaders have expressed hope that a comprehensive agreement could be signed by the end of the year.
The Way Forward
The U.S.'s endeavor to quickly mend high-level engagements with Azerbaijan signifies the importance of maintaining influence in the South Caucasus and mediating the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Both nations' willingness to engage in dialogue, despite recent setbacks, suggests a cautious optimism for the resumption of peace negotiations and the stabilization of regional dynamics. However, the outcome of O'Brien's forthcoming visit and the response of both Azerbaijan and Armenia to these diplomatic efforts will be critical in shaping the future of peace and cooperation in the region.