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Armenia returns to negotiating table after refusing talks with Azerbaijan in December

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The President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia have held talks in Brussels facilitated by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. This positive development saw progress on border and transportation issues after earlier talks with President Michel stalled when Armenia refused to participate in a meeting last December, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

Charles Michel’s efforts to help Azerbaijan and Armenia agree to a lasting peace were put on hold at the end of last year when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to attend a further meeting in Brussels with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. But patience by the European Union -and by Azerbaijan- has been rewarded with a meeting that went ahead on 14 March.

It seems that some progress was made in Brussels in the dispute between the two countries. It is primarily over the Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised boundaries but has brought devastation to a much larger area during two major wars, causing widespread human misery and economic disruption. After the meeting, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence reported that its military positions in the Kalbajar region had come under mortar fire from Armenia’s armed forces.

Nevertheless, the leaders confirmed that they would meet again next month, together with President Macron of France and Chancellor Scholz of Germany, during the European Political Community summit in Chisinau, Moldova. The two sides didn’t offer a detailed readout of their talks in Brussels but President Michel provided some commentary.

“Our exchanges were frank, open and results-oriented”, he said. “Following the recent positive talks in the United States on the peace treaty, the momentum should be maintained to take decisive steps towards the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.

“On border issues, we reviewed progress and the next steps regarding the delimitation of the border”, he added. Charles Michel also reported good progress on unblocking transport and economic links “in particular on the reopening of the railway connections to and from Nakhchivan”.

In an interview with EU Reporter last month, Elchin Amirbayov, who is Assistant to the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan, spoke of his expectation that President Michel would soon resume his role as a facilitator of peace talks. Mr Amirbayov saw the reconstruction of the railway through Armenia linking Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan as an important confidence-building measure.

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It could form part of the Middle Corridor between Asia and Europe, he argued, enabling Armenia to benefit from this increasingly important trade route once a sustainable peace reopened its borders with both Azerbaijan and Türkiye. He said his country was offering Armenia a ‘win-win’ strategy, not a victor’s peace.

“With it, Armenia will benefit even more because it will be open to investment, for example, from the countries around it”, explained Mr Amirbayov. “It would be considered as a relatively stable place which is not actually risking any new confrontation with its neighbours”.

The Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs later confirmed that the Brussels talks had included the delimitation of borders and the restoration of communications. It stressed the extreme importance of the acceptance by Armenia of the internationally recognised territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

It said that the meeting also provided an opportunity to discuss humanitarian issues, especially included the importance of clarifying the fate of missing persons and of speeding up the process of clearing minefields. Azerbaijan remained ready to continue dialogue and interaction with international partners to achieve normal relations with Armenia.

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