Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to hold talks over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for the first time since a diplomatic push by the U.S., Russia and France ended in deadlock three years ago.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, re-elected last month with 85 percent of the vote, and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, agreed to meet this month, U.S., French and Russian officials said in a joint statement e-mailed late yesterday. The date and place of the summit are still being worked out.
Armenia seized Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave about the size of Rhode Island with more than 140,000 people, and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. More than 30,000 people were killed and more than 1 million displaced before Russia brokered a cease-fire in May 1994.
The U.S., France and Russia “call upon all sides to exercise restraint on the ground as well as in their public statements,” the diplomats, who lead the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s peace efforts for Nagorno-Karabakh, said in the statement. “Military action, particularly at this moment, can only be seen as an attempt to damage the peace process.”
Azerbaijan, buoyed by the third-largest oil reserves in the former Soviet Union, has increased military spending almost 30-fold to $3.7 billion in the past decade. Aliyev has repeatedly threatened to use force to regain the disputed territory if peace talks fail.