Pompeo to host Armenian, Azerbaijani foreign ministers amid deadly clashes

By Nahal Toosi
·3 min read

What’s happening: The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries at war with each other, are scheduled to separately meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday.

It’s not clear whether the envoys will meet with each other or whether U.S. officials will try to convene a trilateral session. But their same-day visits signal that the U.S. is deepening its efforts to tamp down the resurgent conflict, which has reportedly killed hundreds of combatants and civilians since late September.

The visits also offer the Trump administration a chance to showcase an attempt at global leadership just days before President Donald Trump faces reelection.

According to U.S. government documents seen by POLITICO, Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will meet first with Pompeo on Friday morning. His Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, will meet shortly afterward with the U.S. secretary of State.

The State Department also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In an interview on Monday, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, Elin Suleymanov, did not rule out the possibility of an encounter between the Armenian and Azerbaijan ministers during their Washington stay.

Ideally, he said, the two countries can resume meaningful negotiations soon. “We want a substantive conversation,” he stressed.

Armenia’s ambassador in Washington, Varuzhan Nersesyan, praised Pompeo for recently chiding Turkey over its support for Azerbaijan during the conflict.

“We see no alternative to the peaceful resolution of this conflict based on mutual compromises,” Nersesyan said in an interview.

The background: Armenia and Azerbaijan are battling over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, the status of which has been a flashpoint between the two countries for decades.

The territory is within Azerbaijan, but it is under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. The recent violence is the worst in the area since a war over the region paused in 1994.

Outside powers, especially Turkey and Russia, also have interests in the region. Turkey has openly backed Azerbaijan in the recent fighting; Russia has a defense pact with Armenia but has also sought warm ties with Azerbaijan.

The United States, along with Russia and France, co-chairs the so-called Minsk Group, a body that has sought to mediate an end to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

As the fighting has progressed over the past few weeks, Pompeo has appealed to Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to agreed-upon cease-fires, but such truces have rapidly collapsed. Pompeo also has urged Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, not to deepen the crisis.

“We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight,” Pompeo told an Atlanta media outlet.

“The resolution of that conflict ought to be done through negotiation and peaceful discussions, not through armed conflict,“ Pompeo added, “and certainly not with third party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation.”