Azerbaijan continues to refuse to attend peace talks with Armenia, citing what it calls the biased approach of Western mediating countries. This time it was the U.S. that displeased Azerbaijan.
On November 16, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry put out a statement announcing the country's decision not to attend a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Washington scheduled for four days later.
The snub was in large part a response to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien's testimony the previous day at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing titled "The Future of Nagorno-Karabakh." He told the committee that the U.S. was working on establishing a "comprehensive, thorough and transparent" record of what happened in the formerly Armenian-populated enclave before and during Azerbaijan's September military takeover.
"We have commissioned independent investigators, we have our own investigators working in the field. There is information available from international non-governmental organizations and other investigators. And as we develop the record of what happened, we will be completely open about what we are finding. I can't put a timeline on this investigation, but we will inform you as we go forward," he said.
O'Brien went on to express support for Armenia, which has been attempting a pivot away from Russia and is scrambling to accommodate the 100,000-some people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh in September.
"I am very impressed by the Armenian government's commitment to reforms and diversifying the relationships that it has – economic, political, energy and security – particularly in the Trans-Atlantic community," he said. "And I think we owe it to the people of Armenia to help them through this difficult situation so that those choices they have made very bravely are able to help them to make them have a more secure, stable and prosperous future."
O'Brien also said that the U.S. had canceled high-level bilateral meetings and engagements with Azerbaijan (without specifying exactly when) and would keep urging Baku to "facilitate the return of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians who may wish to go back to their homes or visit cultural sites in the region, as well as restore unimpeded commercial, humanitarian, and pedestrian traffic to the region."
In its statement the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry called the hearing "a blow to the Azerbaijan-U.S. relations in bilateral and multilateral formats."
"The groundless accusations voiced against Azerbaijan are irrelevant and undermine peace and security in the region," the statement read.
On the day of the hearing, the U.S. Senate also adopted a bill titled "Armenian Protection Act of 2023". If it becomes law, the bill will suspend all military aid to Azerbaijan by repealing the Freedom Support Act Section 907 waiver authority for the Administration with respect to assistance to Azerbaijan for the years 2024 and 2025.
On that front, Azerbaijan's diplomatic body argued that the U.S. was repeating "the same mistake" it made in 1992, when Azerbaijan was sanctioned with this amendment, "despite being a state who faced aggression and occupation" at the hands of Armenian forces.
Also on November 16, the U.S. reaffirmed its support for Armenia-Azerbaijan rapprochement irrespective of who mediates. "We would encourage the two parties to engage in those talks, whether they are here, whether they are somewhere else, and that'll continue to be our policy," spokesperson of the U.S. State Department Matthew Miller told a briefing.
Baku for its part does not seem interested in the U.S. having an active role in those talks. For some months now, it has been expressing distaste with Western-brokered negotiations and instead shown a preference for regional mediators like Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
And its latest statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry warned that, "[S]uch a unilateral approach by the United States could lead to the loss of the mediation role of the United States."
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.