NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev discussed the conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Brussels on November 23, with Aliyev reiterating Baku's harsh criticism of neighboring Armenia in the decades-long standoff.
Addressing reporters at NATO headquarters following the talks, Stoltenberg called the conflict a "matter of concern" for the Western military alliance and urged the two sides to "avoid any new escalation."
Standing next to Stoltenberg, Aliyev said the situation surrounding the breakaway region was "not changing, unfortunately," and accused Armenia of seeking "to keep the status quo."
Armenia-backed separatists seized control of mainly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people. Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought little progress.
Internationally mediated negotiations with the involvement of the OSCE's so-called Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, have failed to result in a resolution.
The talks between Stoltenberg and Aliyev were held a day after the de facto military authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said three of its fighters were killed and one seriously wounded in a November 21 land-mine explosion near the line of contact separating the combatant sides.
Stoltenberg said he was encouraged by "renewed dialogue" between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, who held talks in Geneva last month that the two sides called "constructive."
Aliyev, who slammed Armenia for what he called a policy of "ethnic cleansing" in the region, was set to meet officials from all 29 NATO member states later on November 23, Stoltenberg said.
Both Aliyev and Sarkisian are slated to meet EU leaders at the Eastern Partnership summit in the Belgian capital on November 24.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in September, Sarkisian accused Azerbaijan of committing "a number of war crimes" against civilians and "prisoners of war" in 2016.
He called on Baku to "recognize and respect the right of the people" of Nagorno-Karabakh to decide their "own future through a free expression of will."