Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday approached a peace agreement over the disputed enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, the object of two wars, without having succeeded despite four days of intense discussions under the auspices of the UNITED STATES.

“Both parties have addressed very difficult issues in recent days and they have made tangible progress towards a lasting peace agreement,” said the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, at the end of the discussions.

“I hope they feel, and I believe they do, that an agreement is in sight, within reach,” he added, stressing that “the pace of negotiations and the foundations laid” suggest to conclude a peace agreement later.

“The last kilometer of a marathon is always the most difficult. We all know that,” he said, pledging the continued support of the United States to “cross the finish line”.

No details have filtered through on the stumbling blocks or on the day-to-day course of the discussions held away from the press in a conference center near the federal capital.

In separate but identical statements, the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministries spoke of “advances” while indicating that “positions on key issues remain divergent”.

“The parties agree to continue discussions,” they added.

In his own statement, Mr Blinken said the two sides had “agreed to some terms in principle” and had a “better understanding of each other’s positions”.

He stressed that he had proposed to “ministers to return to their capitals to share with their governments the prospect that with a little more goodwill, flexibility and compromise, an agreement is within reach”.

The two Caucasian countries clashed in two wars in the early 1990s and in 2020 for control of Nagorny Karabakh, a mountainous region predominantly populated by Armenians that seceded from Azerbaijan more than three decades ago. .

Tensions, already high, redoubled when Baku announced on April 23 that it had set up a first road checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin corridor, the only axis linking Armenia to the separatist enclave, already subject to a blockade of several months which caused shortages and power cuts.

Mr. Blinken, who sponsored the discussions that began on Monday, spoke during a “closing session” of the negotiations in the presence of the heads of diplomacy of the two countries, the Armenian Ararat Mirzoyan and the Azerbaijani Djeyhoun Baïramov.

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had already mentioned “progress” Wednesday evening in a tweet and said he “encouraged the continuation of the dialogue” after a meeting at the White House with the two ministers.

The negotiations focus specifically on “an agreement to normalize relations” between the two countries, rather than a formal peace treaty.

Mr. Blinken, who is particularly active on this file, had discussed the support of the United States for the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan during separate conversations with their leaders over the past weekend.

He has already participated with his counterparts in two trilateral meetings last November, then last February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, without these discussions having led to an agreement.

These negotiations under American mediation took place a few days after a tour of the region by the head of French diplomacy, Catherine Colonna, who said she believed in a peaceful settlement despite deep differences between the belligerents.

Russia, for its part, welcomed the discussions in Washington with reserve, assuring on Tuesday that there was “no alternative” to its own mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

At the end of a short war which saw Azerbaijan retake territories in this region in the fall of 2020, Baku and Yerevan signed a ceasefire promoted by Moscow.

Since then, Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Nagorny Karabakh, but Armenia has been complaining for several months about their inefficiency.

04/05/2023 23:09:30 –         Washington (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP