Talks will take place in Geneva on Thursday and in Moscow on October 12 to try to restore a ceasefire, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers in Paris on Wednesday.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will attend the talks in Geneva, his office said on Wednesday. Armenia said Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Monday, but will not go to Geneva. The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the visit, the official Tass press service reported.
Azerbaijan “started the conflict, for relatively little territorial gain,” and it is in everyone’s interest to re-establish a ceasefire and have negotiations without preconditions, Le Drian told the National Assembly foreign affairs committee. The “new element” of the crisis is the involvement of Turkey which “risks fueling the internationalization of the conflict, which we do not want,” he said.
The diplomatic movements came as intense fighting continued for an 11th day between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces, with each side accusing the other of shooting at civilian populations. They have so far ignored ceasefire calls from the United States, France and Russia, which act as the so-called group of Minsk mediators who have tried for decades unsuccessfully to resolve the conflict.
Mnatsakanyan from Armenia will not meet Bayramov from Azerbaijan in Geneva because it is unacceptable to hold talks “while military actions are carried out against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia”, said Anna Naghdalyan, spokesperson of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan in a 1990s war amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. While a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994 ended the fighting that killed 30,000 people and displaced 1 million people, the two sides never signed a peace agreement.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin “briefly” discussed the conflict with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, during a phone call Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call. This is the first disclosure of talks between the two leaders since the fighting began on September 27.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also spoke to Putin, their fifth telephone interview during the same period.
Iran launched a “strong protest” to both Azerbaijan and Armenia against the “violation of territorial integrity” and the damage to property caused by the rockets and bombardments which landed on its side border, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
Supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Aliyev pledged to continue this military campaign until Armenian forces leave the territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Armenia says it is defending Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination after its Armenian majority declared independence.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned against allowing the conflict “to bring to our borders the same terrorists that we have been fighting and eliminating in Syria for years”, following reports that Turkey allows activists Syrians to cross its territory on the way to Azerbaijan. “This is unacceptable and we have clearly informed our neighbors about it,” he said.
Turkey and Azerbaijan deny that Syrian militants are involved in the fighting. The director of the Russian foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, warned on Tuesday that the conflict attracted extremists “like a magnet” and posed apotential threat to Russian security from “terrorist organizations”.
– With the help of Zulfugar Agayev, Arsalan Shahla and Patrick Sykes