NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday in a bid to ease tensions and maintain a fragile ceasefire between the ex-Soviet countries and rivals following the largest outbreak of hostilities in more than two years.
Blinken brought Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov together at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly. It was the foreign ministers' first face-to-face meeting since two days of shelling last week by both sides killed more than 200 troops.
Only Blinken spoke at the start of meeting at which the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations sat somberly on opposite sides, separated by US officials.
“We are encouraged by the fact that the fighting has ceased and there has not been” a resumption of shelling, said Blinken, who has spoken several times to the leaders of both countries.
“Strong, sustainable diplomatic engagement is the best path for everyone,” he said. “There is a path to a durable peace that resolves the differences.“
The meeting was held just a day after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia and condemned Azeri attacks, drawing complaints from Baku.
Speaking ahead of Monday's meeting, Bayramov said his country is “satisfied with the level of relations” with the US and said his direct talks with Mirzoyan were not unusual.
“We are always open for meetings,” he said.
The two Caucasus countries in have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region located within Azerbaijan but that had been long under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Yerevan since a separatist war ended in 1994.
During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in that fighting.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have each blamed the other for starting last week's shelling attacks.