Armenia and Azerbaijan approached a peace agreement on Thursday (May 5th) over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, the subject of two wars, without having succeeded despite four days of intense discussions under the auspices of the United States.
“Both parties have addressed very difficult subjects in recent days and they have made tangible progress towards a lasting peace agreement,” said the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, at the end of the discussions.
“I hope they feel, and I believe they do, that an agreement is in sight, within reach”, he added, stressing that “the pace of negotiations and the foundations laid” suggest to conclude a peace agreement later. “The last mile of a marathon is always the hardest. We all know that,” he said again, pledging the continued support of the United States to “cross the finish line.”
Continuation of discussions
No details have filtered through on the stumbling blocks or on the day-to-day course of the discussions held away from the press in a conference center near the federal capital.
In separate but identical statements, the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministries referred to “advances” while indicating that “positions on key issues remain divergent”. “The parties agree to continue discussions,” they added.
Antony Blinken stressed that the two sides had “agreed in principle to certain terms” and had a “better understanding of each other’s positions”. He underlined having proposed to “ministers to return to their capitals to share with their governments the prospect that with a little more goodwill, flexibility and compromise, an agreement is within reach”.
Two wars between 1990 and 2020
The two Caucasian countries clashed in two wars in the early 1990s and in 2020 for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region mostly populated by Armenians that seceded from Azerbaijan more than three years ago. decades.
Tensions, already high, redoubled when Baku announced on April 23 that it had set up a first road checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin corridor, the only axis linking Armenia to the separatist enclave, already subject to a blockade of several months which caused shortages and power cuts.
Antony Blinken, who sponsored the talks that began on Monday, spoke at a “closing session” of the negotiations in the presence of the heads of diplomacy of the two countries, the Armenian Ararat Mirzoyan and the Azerbaijani Djeyhoun Baïramov.
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had already mentioned “progress” Wednesday evening in a tweet and said “encourage the continuation of the dialogue” after a meeting at the White House with the two ministers.
Good to host @AraratMirzoyan & @Bayramov_Jeyhun together at the White House today. We welcome the progress Armenia & Azerbaijan have made in talks & encourage continued dialogue. A sustainable & just agreement will be key to unlocking opportunities for both countries & the region
— Jake Sullivan (@JakeSullivan46) May 3, 2023
The negotiations focus specifically on “an agreement to normalize relations” between the two countries, rather than a formal peace treaty.
Antony Blinken, who has been particularly active on this issue, discussed US support for the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in separate conversations with their leaders over the weekend.
He has already participated with his counterparts in two trilateral meetings last November, then last February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, without these discussions having led to an agreement.
These negotiations under American mediation took place a few days after a tour of the region by the head of French diplomacy, Catherine Colonna, who said she believed in a peaceful settlement despite deep differences between the belligerents.
Russia, for its part, welcomed the discussions in Washington with reserve, assuring on Tuesday that there was “no alternative” to its own mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At the end of a short war which saw Azerbaijan retake territories in this region in the fall of 2020, Baku and Yerevan signed a ceasefire promoted by Moscow. Since then, Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Armenia has been complaining for several months about their inefficiency.