Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday held separate calls with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, offering U.S. support for what he called a “historic opportunity” to achieve peace in the region.
The calls followed face-to-face meetings between the foreign ministers of both countries in Georgia on July 16, the first bilateral talks since the 2020 war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within sovereign Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic-Armenians.
That last round of fighting, between September and November 2020, saw at least 6,500 people killed. A Russian-brokered ceasefire had the Armenia-backed government in the territory cede land to Azerbaijan.
Blinken spoke separately with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, but expressed U.S. support and assistance to help Yerevan and Baku “find a long-term comprehensive peace,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
Blinken called on Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev “to release all remaining Armenian detainees.” It’s unclear how many Armenians are detained in Azerbaijan.
Blinken, in his call with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, “commended” the prime minister on “positive momentum and concrete agreements” toward normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a flashpoint of greater power conflicts, between Russian-backed Yerevan and Turkey-backed Baku.
There is deep-seated mistrust between Armenia and Turkey over Yerevan’s charges that Ankara has failed to take responsibility and acknowledge the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against the Armenian people in the early 20th century.
The U.S. has strategic ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, but a strong Armenian-diaspora in the U.S. consistently pushes Congress to impose limits on American military assistance to Baku, and also criticizes Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan.
The U.S., along with Russia and France, are co-chairs of the Minsk Group, the international body charged with achieving peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two sides have fought brutal military conflicts in the 1990s and the 2000s.
Efforts to resolve differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh have gained new urgency since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
While Russia’s invasion has dramatically reshaped global security postures in general, it has likely caused greater insecurity in Armenia, which has relied on Russian “peace-keeping” forces to help maintain the November ceasefire achieved with Azerbaijan.
Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine and its refusal to withdraw and cease its aggression keeps Moscow’s attention away from Yerevan, which it holds a defense pact with. Pressure by the U.S. and democratic allies to condemn and isolate Russia on the global stage further weakens its position as an ally of Armenia.