LONDON – As fighting rages between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with hundreds dead and fears that regional powers in Turkey and Russia will be drawn in, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo huddled with the foreign ministers of the two countries in a debate offers to stop the fighting.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said his country was ready to disarm.
“We are ready to accept a ceasefire,” he said, adding that such a decision is conditional on Armenia withdrawing from what Azerbaijan calls the “occupied” borders. Two past ceasefires have failed in the deadly nearly four-week battle.
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Baku has been the subject of international criticism for what is claimed to be civilian casualties in the conflict. Residential buildings and even a historic church have been hit by Azeri military fire. Azerbaijan said Armenia was doing the same and the president claimed the damage was unintentional.
“We have publicly declared that we will take revenge, but on the battlefield,” Aliyev said. “We are not killing civilians. We do not target religious sites. ”
The concern is that this now localized war could spread: Turkey supports Azerbaijan and Russia is a nominal ally of Armenia.
“Our position is that all countries in the region must stay away from any direct involvement in the conflict,” Aliyev said. “We are totally against the” internationalization “of the conflict. ”
Yet Turkey’s support for Baku is strong and public. In addition to military equipment, several sources claim that Syrian militias allied with Turkey are fighting alongside Azeri troops. Aliyev categorically denied the charges.
“We don’t need any mercenaries,” he said. “This is all fake news aimed at damaging the image of the country and diminishing the bravery of soldiers on the battlefield. ”
Some accounts note the pre-election schedule of meetings held in Washington between Pompeo and the mainstream in the struggle. After the meetings, President Trump optimistically told reporters, “We’ll see what happens. ”
The Azerbaijani president seemed ready to accept help, however he gets it.
“Any motivation to end the hostility is supported by us,” Aliyev said. “A very simple position of President Trump is supported by myself as well as by the Azerbaijani people.”
In fact, during Friday’s Oval Office press event, Trump congratulated Armenia and did not mention Azerbaijan. When asked once again if he thinks a peaceful resolution is possible, Aliyev gave a measured response.
“I am absolutely confident… but it depends on the other side,” he said.