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Armenian, Azerbaijani Leaders Talk War As World Powers Press For Nagorno-Karabakh Truce


A man sits amid rubble following shelling in the town of Ganca, near the front lines in Nagorno-Karabakh.

YEREVAN/BAKU -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has told the nation that he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, dampening international efforts to forge a sustainable truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway territory.

"We have to realize that the Karabakh question, at least at this stage and for a very long time, cannot have a diplomatic solution," Pashinian said during a speech broadcast on Facebook Live on October 21.

"Everything that is diplomatically acceptable to the Armenian not acceptable to Azerbaijan anymore," he said, calling on Armenians to "take up arms and defend the Motherland."

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Pashinian's comments followed statements by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in which he said that he foresaw a military resolution to the crisis and that Azerbaijani forces would drive Armenians "out of our lands."

The rhetoric has cast a pall on the diplomatic push to end fighting between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces, with Armenia’s President Armen Sarkisian visiting Brussels for talks with the European Union and NATO, while the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers are in Moscow for consultations with Russia.

Hundreds of soldiers and civilians have been killed since late September, when fighting flared up over the mountainous enclave run and populated by ethnic Armenians but recognized internationally as Azerbaijani.

After Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, the Azerbaijani ambassador to Russia, Polad Bulbuloglu, said that Baku remained committed to efforts to forge a peace deal.

"Bayramov reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s commitment to efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully," Bulbuloglu told the Russian state agency TASS.

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Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian met separately with Lavrov on October 21, but there was no face-to-face meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian ministers.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the talks centered on "urgent issues related to implementing agreements reached earlier on a cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and creating conditions for its sustainable settlement."

Bayramov and Mnatsakanian will next travel to Washington for talks on October 23 involving U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a development that has raised hopes of a breakthrough.

Pompeo told reporters that he would tell the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia that “the right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to de-escalate, that every country should stay out -- provide no fuel for this conflict, no weapons systems, no support."

“It is at that point that a diplomatic solution, that would be acceptable to all, can potentially be achieved," he added.

The United States, France, and Russia are the co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has spearheaded efforts, so far unsuccessful, to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh since a fragile 1994 cease-fire. The three powers have called for an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic settlement of the conflict.

Welcoming Sarkisian to NATO headquarters on October 21, the Western military alliance's secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, called for both Azerbaijanis and Armenians to observe the cease-fire.

"It is important for NATO and international security that hostilities end, the suffering stops, and a peaceful solution is found,” he said.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan reported new fighting on October 21 in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as the second of two humanitarian cease-fires appears to have failed to hold.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported artillery bombardments, with fighting particularly intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.

Azerbaijan on October 21 denied one of its warplanes was shot down.

"The Armenian Defense Ministry's report on the downing of an Azerbaijani Air Force aircraft is untrue," it said.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said earlier that the air defense of Nagorno-Karabakh had downed an Azerbaijani military plane in the southern part of the conflict zone. Stepanian did not specify the type of plane downed.

Reports on both sides are often contradictory and hard to verify, with each accusing the other of attacking civilian targets.

Fears Of A Wider Conflict

The fighting has raised concerns of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia, and Turkey, Azerbaijan's closest ally. There is also increased concern about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry Azeri gas and oil to world markets.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay reiterated his country's support for Azerbaijan, saying on October 21 that Turkey would not hesitate to send troops if Baku requested it.

He also alleged that the Minsk Group was supporting Yerevan and was deliberately trying to keep the conflict from being resolved.

Besides Stoltenberg, Sarkisian was also due to meet with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel in Brussels, his office said.

"It is expected that the leadership of NATO and the European organizations will do everything possible to stop Azerbaijan's and NATO-member Turkey's military actions, which will help bring to life the cease-fire agreements," it said.

Armenia has accused Turkey of sending mercenaries to fight on the Azerbaijani side.

NATO member Turkey has rejected the accusation, saying it has no direct role in the fighting.

Azerbaijan says its forces, which are boosted by increased military spending in the past few years and are making heavy use of drones, have made territorial gains.

Internationally recognized as part of mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has been controlled by mainly Christian ethnic Armenians, backed by Yerevan, since the 1994 cease-fire.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS