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Biden says Trump must step into Armenia-Azerbaijan war

Joe Biden. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
October 15, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday called on rival Republican candidate President Donald Trump and his administration to “get more involved” in an ongoing deadly military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority Armenian region within Azerbaijan’s borders, just north of Iran.

“I am deeply concerned by the collapse of the October 10 ceasefire and the resumption of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Drones, mortars and long-range artillery are claiming hundreds of lives on both sides of the line of contact and displacing thousands of civilians,” Biden said in a statement published on his campaign website on Tuesday.

“Inexplicably, the Trump Administration has been largely passive, and disengaged, throughout this recent period of escalation,” Biden’s statement continued. “Since the outbreak of hostilities on September 27, neither President Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo has placed a single phone call to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, even as the region goes up in flames. Rather than delegating the diplomacy to Moscow, the administration must get more involved, at the highest levels, by working with our European partners to de-escalate the fighting and return the two sides to negotiations.”

Armenia claims that on Sept. 27 that Azerbaijan’s forces attacked the Armenian-controlled mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, while Azerbaijan’s government has said it was carrying out a counter-attack in response to military provocation, Politico reported. Armenia has since declared martial law and mobilization of its forces, and Azerbaijan reportedly announced a state of war in some regions. As the conflict has continued to expand beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenia claimed a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down one of its warplanes.

Biden’s call for Trump to act comes after Trump and members of his administration have condemned the fighting and called for a cessation of hostilities.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus issued a statement on behalf of the State Department on Sept. 27, as the conflict began. Ortagus said, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this escalation of violence.”

Ortagus also said ”Deputy Secretary Biegun called the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov, and the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, to urge both sides to cease hostilities immediately, to use the existing direct communication links between them to avoid further escalation, and to avoid unhelpful rhetoric and actions that further raise tensions on the ground.”

President Trump joined with French President Emanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin in an Oct. 1, joint statement calling for Armenia and Azerbaijan to begin “an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also joined with his French and Russian counterparts in an Oct. 5 joint statement, also urged the warring sides to commit to a peace process.

According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. has maintained diplomatic relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1992. Turkey’s apparent involvement in the conflict could also complicate the peace process for the U.S., as Turkey is a NATO ally.

In his remarks on the conflict on Tuesday, Biden said, “The Trump Administration must tell Azerbaijan that it will not tolerate its efforts to impose a military solution to this conflict.”

“It must make clear to Armenia that regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be occupied indefinitely and that credible negotiations on a lasting resolution of the conflict must commence immediately once a ceasefire is concluded,” Biden’s statement continued. “Finally, it must stop coddling Ankara and tell both Turkey and Iran to stay out of this conflict. Turkey’s provision of arms to Azerbaijan and bellicose rhetoric encouraging a military solution are irresponsible. A diplomatic resolution will not be easy to achieve, but the Trump Administration has an obligation to try. It should do so urgently before more lives are lost and the conflict expands.”

It is not clear whether neighboring Iran has become involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as suggested by Biden. Deputy Commander of Iran’s Law Enforcement Police Brigadier General Qassem Rezayee, in an Oct. 7 statement reported by Iran’s Fars News agency, called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to apologize for risking harm to Iran in their fighting near Iranian border areas.