WASHINGTON — The Trump administration waded cautiously Friday into international efforts to halt fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are engaged in their worst conflict in more than 25 years.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met separately in Washington with the foreign ministers of both countries in a bid to promote a cease-fire in hostilities over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The State Department said Pompeo had emphasized to Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov the need “to end the violence and protect civilians.”
“Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” Pompeo said in a tweet after his talks.
Friday’s meetings followed failed Russian-led attempts to broker a truce and lower-profile U.S. intervention to promote an end to the fighting. U.S. officials, including Pompeo’s deputy, Stephen Biegun, have appealed for the countries to return to a dialogue over the territory.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting raged over Nagorno-Karabakh even as the discussions in Washington were taking place. The two sides traded accusations involving the shelling of residential areas, and authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said the town of Martakert and several villages in the Martuni region were struck by Azerbaijani rockets.
The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry denied the claim and accused Armenian forces of targeting the Terter, Agdam and Agjabedi regions of Azerbaijan overnight.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The fighting that started Sept. 27 marks the worst escalation in the conflict since the war’s end