The Trump administration, under pressure to help ease an expanding conflict in the Caucasus region, appealed for a cessation of violence in a pair of high-stakes meetings on Friday with top officials from Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Diplomats hoped the meetings—following similar efforts in Moscow and Paris—will exert sufficient pressure on both sides to negotiate a peaceful solution despite the failure of recent efforts to broker a cease-fire.
“What happened today was a very important building block, a step forward toward a meaningful diplomatic solution,” said Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.S., without providing any details of the talks.
President Trump on Friday addressed the conflict by praising the Armenian-American community and told reporters that he is involved in brokering peace between the parties, while declining to say whether he had spoken to the countries’ leaders. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had “emphasized the need to end the violence and protect civilians” and urged the parties to engage in “substantive negotiations.”
The two former Soviet republics traded blame for clashes in September and October marking the latest chapter in a long-term conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that has consumed the two nations for almost three decades. Populated and controlled by ethnic Armenian Christians, the province is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, which is mostly Muslim.
U.S. officials worry that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan—which have close ties to Russia and Turkey, respectively—could lead to broader turmoil in the region or have an effect on other countries. Russia and Turkey recently have become involved in several hot spots, including Libya and Syria.
More on the Conflict
On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed a test of the S-400 air defense system acquired from Russia, drawing complaints from U.S. officials.
The U.S., France and Russia are co-chairs of the Minsk Group of countries which leads the efforts of the intergovernmental Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict. Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron discussed the conflict in a phone call.
Following Friday’s meeting with Mr. Pompeo, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said in a statement that he had reiterated his government’s commitment to a political solution and called for an end to “the illegal Armenian occupation” of the disputed territory.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said that Mr. Pompeo’s message was similar to that of Russia and France, and that Armenia agrees. “The war has to stop, the aggression has to stop, a cease-fire has to be established,” he said on CNN. He said Armenia rejects concessions that would result in the “subjugation” of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, but would agree to stop the fighting and move on from there, he said.
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Friday that it had documented four instances of Azerbaijan’s use of widely banned cluster munitions this month, including in residential areas of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Mr. Suleymanov accused Human Rights Watch of a lack of impartiality and says Azerbaijan doesn’t use cluster munitions in civilian areas and that Armenia uses such weapons. Azeri officials have also accused Armenian forces of targeting civilian areas, leading to casualties.
The sizable Armenian-American community has sought to pressure the Trump administration to dissuade Turkey from actively backing Azerbaijan, a neighboring country with strong cultural and linguistic ties to Ankara.
Kim Kardashian West, the reality television star, wrote to her more than 60 million Twitter followers
On Thursday, seven Democratic senators called on Mr. Pompeo to scrutinize Azerbaijan and Turkey, which is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, for possible human rights violations while supporting the Azeris. Mr. Pompeo this month warned outside countries to stay out of the conflict noting that “we’ve watched Turkey begin to reinforce Azerbaijan.”
Mr. Suleymanov denied a report in The Wall Street Journal that Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have joined the conflict.
“There is not a single shred of evidence that is verified that there are Syrians in Azerbaijan,” Mr. Suleymanov said.
—Courtney McBride contributed to this article.
Write to William Mauldin at email@example.com