Blinken offers condolences to Armenia’s PM after Azerbaijan shelling kills scores

The top US diplomat said diplomacy was the only way forward, pledging to remain personally engaged.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Armenia’s prime minister on Thursday to convey Washington’s condolences for those killed by Azerbaijani attacks along the border, the State Department said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a battle for years over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh but fighting escalated this week, with each side blaming the other. A fragile ceasefire seems to have been held over the last 24 hours.

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“The Secretary reiterated our commitment to helping Armenia and Azerbaijan resolve issues peacefully,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

Price added that Blinken said diplomacy was the only way forward, pledging to remain personally engaged.

There was no reported call between Blinken and Azerbaijan’s president, but a senior State Department official said Thursday’s call with Nikol Pashinyan was at the latter’s request.

The official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, reiterated previous US calls for more direct engagement between Yerevan and Baku to reach a lasting solution but also criticized the shelling inside Armenia proper.

“We also have to think about the rights and the security of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been an important element of this conflict. But I think also what was striking this week was the concern about shelling on sovereign Armenian territory,” the official said.

As for Russia’s role in the most recent ceasefire, the official played down any work so far by Moscow. “I will say we do not see any indication that Russian efforts contributed in a positive way towards securing the most recent ceasefire of this week,” the State Department official said.

According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the State Department, Defense Department, Energy Department, and USAID provided around $808 million for assistance for Azerbaijan in fiscal years 2002 through 2020.

Around $164 million of these funds were for security assistance to Azerbaijan. Asked if the US would consider cutting military aid after Azerbaijan attacked areas inside of Armenia this week, the official said it was too early to say.

“We are still in the early days of this, and I will say that we are still trying to understand exactly what happened on the ground. And that’s why our call has been initially for an immediate and full cessation of violence,” the official said. “And now that the ceasefire is in place, we are very focused on both sides maintaining that ceasefire.”

The official went on to say that the US did not want to see any more lives lost in either country and was committed to resolving the issues peacefully. “So that is our focus. Our focus is on diplomacy as the only way forward.”

Read more: Armenia says deadly clashes with Azerbaijan could escalate into war

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