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Azerbaijan-US Relations Critical for Peace and Security in the South Caucasus: Department of State

By Gunay Hajiyeva December 7, 2023

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Matthew Miller / Courtesy

The relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan has emerged as a priority issue, as highlighted by the recent press briefing conducted by Matthew Miller, the spokesperson for the US Department of State.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Miller conveyed that Washington is committed to maintaining diplomatic engagements with Baku to safeguard US national interests. 

“We never said that we’re not going to continue to engage with Azerbaijan. That would be against our interests as the United States of America. We think it would be against the interests of peace and security in the region for us to just drop all of our diplomatic engagements with Azerbaijan,” he said.

Furthermore, Miller underscored Washington’s pursuit of lasting peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a facet integral to its diplomatic efforts in the South Caucasus region.

Miller’s comments coincided with the visit of James C. O’Brien, the US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, to Azerbaijan on Wednesday. During his stay in Baku, O’Brien met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss collaborative efforts to strengthen bilateral relations and support peace initiatives between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

President Aliyev noted that following the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war, Armenia had not fulfilled its obligations, sent weapons and military personnel to the territories of Azerbaijan, and supported separatism. He asserted that Azerbaijan, in response, undertook anti-terror measures in its sovereign territories to put an end to aggressive separatism, ensuring exemplary compliance with international humanitarian law during the operation. President Aliyev pointed out that no harm had been done to civilians and infrastructure.

Earlier, during a hearing on November 15, 2023, before the Subcommittee on Europe of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, O’Brien questioned whether the Azerbaijani authorities have been demonstrating clear intentions on signing a peace treaty with Yerevan. O’Brien recalled Azerbaijan’s local anti-terror measures in the Karabakh region in September, saying: “Relations with Azerbaijan cannot continue as normal after the events of September 19 until there is progress towards peace.”

In response, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry condemned O’Brien’s remarks as unilateral, biased, counterproductive, baseless, and unacceptable, asserting that such statements detrimentally impacted Azerbaijan-American relations. The ministry argued that Washington overlooked the key issue leading to Azerbaijan’s counter-terrorism measures – the illegal deployment of over 10,000 Armenian armed forces in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan violating international law and the November 10, 2020, Trilateral Statement. Despite Azerbaijan’s calls for the immediate withdrawal of these forces, there was no response from the international community, including the US, as per the ministry’s statement. Azerbaijan criticized the US authorities for not acknowledging Armenia’s lack of responsiveness to peace agreement proposals, prolonging the negotiation process.

Additionally, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry declined a proposal for a meeting with Armenia's foreign minister in Washington on November 20, citing the “one-sided approach of the United States.”

Armenia and Azerbaijan had long been at odds over the latter’s Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan, marking the longest and deadliest war in the South Caucasus region. The bloody war ended with a ceasefire in 1994 and saw Armenia forcibly occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, nearly 4,000 went missing, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

On September 27, 2020, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict took a violent turn when Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations, which lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from a nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended with the signing of a statement on November 10, 2020, under which Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Shortly after the 2020 war, the Azerbaijani authorities voiced readiness and determination to launch negotiations with Armenia that would ultimately bring the long-awaited peace to the region. In March 2022, Baku submitted five basic principles to Yerevan, including mutual recognition of territorial integrity and border delimitation activities.

Since the end of the war, there have been a series of high-level meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia mediated by Russian, European, and American officials.

However, due to Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan, despite its recognition of the country’s territorial integrity, the peace talks did not lead to any resolutions. The presence of the illegal separatist regime in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan until the end of September this year and Yerevan’s financial and military support to it blocked the attempts for a breakthrough.