Blinken holds talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers amid Lachin Corridor dispute

Blinken holds talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers amid Lachin Corridor dispute
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held discussions with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in an attempt to reduce tensions between the two South Caucasus rivals.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday, in an effort to ease tensions between the two South Caucasus rivals, amid renewed friction between the countries, following Azerbaijan's installation of a road checkpoint at the beginning of the Lachin Corridor, the only route that links Armenia to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

While Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, it is home to mostly ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijan had committed to keeping the route open as part of a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 2020 that ended a six-week war between the two countries. However, it claimed that it had established the checkpoint in response to Armenian weapon supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh, a charge that Yerevan denies.

The discussions between Blinken and the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as a three-way discussion, were not expected to produce any significant breakthroughs. A senior State Department official said Washington's "goal is to make sure that the ministers are able to sit down and talk to each other ... But it's most important that the two of them are able to continue their negotiations."

Washington had previously expressed deep concern over Azerbaijan's establishment of the checkpoint, and the United States was disappointed that Russia had taken a negative view of the meeting taking place in Washington.

The stand-off is seen as a test of Russia's commitment to mediating disputes in the region. Armenia, which is formally an ally of Russia through a mutual self-defense pact, has repeatedly called on Moscow to use its peacekeeping force to stop what it calls Azerbaijan's "gross violation" of the peace deal.

The parties have agreed to hold talks in Moscow at some point in the future, though no date has been set yet. Negotiations over a longer-term peace deal between the two sides after another military flare-up last year quickly stalled as Armenia pushed for the European Union and France to have a bigger mediating role, while Azerbaijan rejected this proposal.