Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to take steps toward normalizing ties

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Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to take steps toward normalizing ties and to exchange prisoners of war, a joint statement by the countries said Thursday.

The Caucasus neighbors have been locked in a decades-long conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan reclaimed after a lightning offensive against Armenian separatists in September.

Both countries have said a peace agreement could be signed by the end of the year, but peace talks -- mediated separately by the European Union, the United States and Russia -- have seen little progress.

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On Thursday, the two sides agreed “to take tangible steps aimed at confidence-building” and reaffirmed their “intention to normalize ties and sign a peace agreement”, the statement said.

Baku will free 32 Armenian prisoners of war, while Yerevan will release two Azerbaijani servicemen, it added.

The two countries said they “will continue discussing additional confidence-building measures which will be taken in the nearest future and call on the international community to support their efforts.”

The agreements were reached during talks between the office of Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the administration of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.

Armenia’s foreign ministry said Yerevan had “responded positively to the offer of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to organize the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington.”

Aliyev sent troops to Karabakh on September 19, and after just one day of fighting, Armenian separatist forces that had controlled the disputed region for three decades laid down arms and agreed to reintegrate with Baku.

Azerbaijan’s victory marked the end of the territorial dispute, which saw Azerbaijan and Armenia fight two wars -- in 2020 and the 1990s -- that have claimed tens of thousands of lives from both sides.

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