U.S. steps up efforts to establish ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

By Nailia Bagirova, Nvard Hovhannisyan and Humeyra Pamuk
BAKU / YEREVAN / WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Azerbaijan and Armenian forces clashed in multiple parts of Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday as the United States stepped up diplomatic efforts to try to stop the deadliest fighting in the mountain enclave for more than one Quarter to end century.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met separately with Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to end nearly a month of bloodshed that Russian President Vladimir Putin said may have killed 5,000 people.
The collapse of two Russian-brokered ceasefires has clouded hopes for a speedy end to the September 27 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenians.
US President Donald Trump said "good progress" had been made on the issue but failed to elaborate and declined to say whether he had spoken to leaders of both countries. "We work with Armenia. We have a very good relationship with Armenia ... We will see what happens," he told reporters in the Oval Office.
A handful of protesters from both sides, holding Armenian and Azerbaijani flags and banners, sang in front of the Foreign Ministry on Friday. Both ministers held separate meetings with Pompeo that lasted around 30 to 40 minutes.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan spoke about "very productive" meetings with Pompeo at a virtual event organized by the Atlantic Council think tank.
"We have looked at how we can immediately and without delay achieve the establishment of a ceasefire and return to the peaceful solution. I think what we heard from the United States has been very encouraging," he said.
He said the current discussion among co-chairs of the Minsk group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, has focused on the parameters of this ceasefire and its maintenance.
The world powers want to prevent a major war that breaks out in Turkey, which Azerbaijan strongly supports, and in Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul that he hoped Moscow and Ankara could work together to resolve the conflict and reiterated the call for a Turkish role in mediation. "Turkey believes that it is just as right as Russia to work for peace here."
Washington, Paris and Moscow, longstanding talks, have ignored such calls, and differences over the conflict have further strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies. Pompeo accused Turkey of fueling the conflict by arming the Azerbaijani side. Ankara denies having sparked the conflict.
In recent clashes, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense reported fighting in areas, including areas close to the line of contact that separates the sides.
The Armenian Defense Ministry also reported fighting in several areas, saying the town of Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh was shelled during the night. Azerbaijan denied this.
Azerbaijan has raised concerns about the safety of pipelines near the fighting to export Azerbaijani oil and gas, although none have been damaged.
"RIGHT WAY FORWARD"
Pompeo said this week that he hopes the "right way forward" can be found in the talks.
However, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said he saw no diplomatic solution to the conflict at the time, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has described the prospect of a peace settlement as "very remote".
The 15-member United States Security Council had attempted to agree on a statement on the conflict, but diplomats said negotiations stalled because some members wanted references to previous United States resolutions, while Russia, the United States and the United States France did not do this.
Such statements must be mutually agreed. Russia's US Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy confirmed that the Council was no longer working on a text.
Around 30,000 people were killed in a war over Nagorno-Karabakh between 1991 and 1994. The Armenians consider the enclave to be part of their historical homeland. Azeris consider it an illegally occupied land that must be brought back under their control.
Azerbaijani armed forces claim they have made territorial gains, including full control of the border with Iran, which Armenia denies. The ethnic-Armenian government of Nagorno-Karabakh says its armed forces have repelled attacks.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washngton, Michelle Nichols in the United Nations, Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)
In this article
Mike Pompeo
Wladimir Putin
Donald Trump

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