Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has rejected an Armenian proposal on a change to the talks format on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian reiterated on March 14 that the inclusion of officials from the disputed region in the settlement process remained a priority to Yerevan.
"It is unacceptable, and it is an attempt to block the negotiations process," Aliyev said at a forum in Baku, adding that for the status quo to change, Armenia should withdraw its forces from the region.
Mainly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Since 1994, it has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces that Azerbaijan says include troops supplied by Armenia.
Sporadic fighting continues, and three decades of diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh -- whose claim to independence has not been recognized by any country -- have brought little progress.
Pashinian and Aliyev traded accusations in public statements earlier this month, just days after the U.S., Russian, and French mediators -- co-chairs of the Minsk Group set up to mediate a solution to the conflict -- announced the two leaders had agreed to meet soon for further talks.
Pashinian, a former anti-corruption journalist and opposition lawmaker, became prime minister last year following peaceful protests that he spearheaded.
He began a working visit to Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this week where he held a meeting of Armenia's Security Council.
"I would like to underscore that, for us, [Nagorno-Karabakh’s] engagement in the negotiation process is not a whim or even a precondition, but a statement of the fact that [its] engagement in the settlement of the conflict is of pivotal importance," he said in remarks at the meeting on March 12.
Internationally mediated negotiations helped forge a cease-fire in the region, which is not always honored, but have failed to produce a lasting settlement of the conflict.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on March 13 that progress had been made in resolving the dispute and vowed to step up diplomatic efforts to finding a peaceful resolution.
"For peace to take hold, it needs to be accepted and owned by the people. And it requires that our efforts extend beyond politicians. The preparation of populations for peace is an important and complex matter, and deserves our full support," Slovak Foreign Miroslav Lajcak, who is the OSCE's Chairperson-in-Office, said during a two-day visit to Yerevan.
Slovakia currently holds the OSCE's rotating chairmanship.