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Armenia, Azerbaijan Dispute Partnership Language Over Nagorno-Karabakh

BRUSSELS -- A dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the wording of a potential one-paragraph statement on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has delayed completion of a final declaration for next week's Eastern Partnership summit sponsored by the European Union.

European diplomats who asked not to be identified told RFE/RL on November 16 that the EU side wanted to avoid specifically naming the various conflicts in the so-called “Eastern neighborhood” in the final declaration of the November 24 summit in Brussels.

The proposed text stated, “The summit participants call for renewed efforts to promote the peaceful settlement of conflicts in the region on the basis of the principles and norms of international law.”

It added that “the resolution of the conflicts, building trust and good neighborly relations are essential to economic and social development and cooperation.”

However, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have insisted on different but competing language in the relevant paragraph, EU diplomatic sources told RFE/RL. The sources did not describe the language proposed by the opposing sides.

The sources said the paragraph will be left open, possibly for leaders to decide on when the summit convenes.

EU sources said diplomats still hope to avoid a repeat of what happened at the 2015 Eastern Partnership summit in Riga -- where disputes over the text delayed finalization of the declaration by several hours.

The Eastern Partnership was created in 2009 to deepen EU ties with six Eastern European partners -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Officials said the 28 EU member states agreed among themselves in early October on a draft declaration, which was sent to the Eastern partners for feedback. All other language has been agreed upon, except for that pertaining to Nagorno-Karabakh, officials said.

Yerevan and Baku have been embroiled in a long, bloody fight over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was populated mostly by ethnic Armenians but was officially part of Azerbaijan.

Armenian-backed separatists seized the region during a war that started in the late 1980s and killed some 30,000 people; intermittent fighting has continued since a 1994 cease-fire and diplomatic efforts to resolve the territorial dispute have brought little progress.

Other conflicts have also plagued partnership nations over the past years, mostly involving Russia or Moscow-backed forces.

Russia has occupied Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula since seizing it in March 2014, and it backs separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year.

Russia has also unilaterally recognized the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia following a brief war with Georgia in 2008. And Moscow maintains troops in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region over the repeated objections of the Moldovan authorities.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.