Foreign Ministers meeting in January 2019 in France. Armenian MFA video grab

Foreign Ministers Elmar Mamedyarov and Zohrab Mnatsakanyan arrived in Washington for the June 20 meeting organized by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. The two were also due to meet with President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Bolton tweeted about their meeting and offered that “the United States stands ready to assist in advancing the cause of peace in the region.”

Armenian and Azerbaijani ministers previously met two months ago in Moscow and issued an upbeat statement as a result. However, instead of a positive dynamic on the ground, the security situation, which has been generally stable over the past eighteen months, began to show signs of deterioration.

Since early June at least four soldiers on both sides have been killed in sniper fire incidents. Over the past week, the Armenian side also reported aggressive flying by Azerbaijani aircraft and the Azerbaijani government published two videos recorded from drones flying 10 to 15 kilometers inside Armenian territory.

On June 18, Azerbaijan’s defense minister Zakir Hasanov suggested that while his army was continuing to prepare for war, “the international situation” was preventing it. He also lashed out at Armenian footballer Henrik Mkhitaryan for refusing to play in the Europa League final that “our president [Ilham Aliyev] and first vice president [and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva] organized at the highest level.” (Hassanov’s broadside at Mkhitaryan was met with particularly intense mockery on social media.)

Opportunity for bilateral talks

The Armenian-Azerbaijani ministerial meeting in Washington this week is the first to be hosted by the State Department in a decade, the previous one hosted by then Secretary Hillary Clinton in May 2009. While it remains to be seen if the meeting produces anything useful, the two countries also used the opportunity for bilateral meetings with the Trump Administration that has substantially reduced the U.S. outreach to the Caucasus countries.

Meantime, in floor votes on June 18 the House of Representatives adopted amendments to the appropriations bill that would allocated $40 million in democracy assistance to Armenia and $1.5 million in demining assistance to Nagorno Karabakh. The House version of the bill would also have to be agreed to by the Senate & signed by the president to become law.

UPDATED June 20: The foreign ministers’ State Department meeting was downgraded to undersecretary level, with both meeting David Hale instead of John Sullivan. Hale stressed “the importance of preventing further violence and making progress in the OSCE Minsk Group process toward a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” Meeting with Bolton, Mnatsakanyan “underscored the need of ceasefire consolidation and implementation of risk reduction measures.”

At the end of the Mamedyarov-Mnatsakanyan meeting, the OSCE Co-chairs issued a statement that called on the sides “to reaffirm their commitment to observe the ceasefire strictly and to refrain from any provocative action, including the use of snipers and engineering works along the line of contact and the international border.” The ministers agreed to meet again “in the near future.”