The United States is not considering imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan over its continuing blockade of Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) sole land link with Armenia, a senior U.S. diplomat said late on Tuesday.
“This is not a time for sanctions,” Louis Bono, the new U.S. envoy for the South Caucasus, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “I am here to work with both parties to lead them towards peace. Sanctions would be counterproductive. It’s not even under consideration at this point.”
Washington has repeatedly called on Baku to lift the road blockade that led to a humanitarian crisis in Karabakh. According to the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted on the restoration of “free and open commercial and private transit through the Lachin corridor” when he hosted talks between Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s leaders in Munich on February 18.
The Azerbaijani side has dismissed such calls also made by the European Union and Russia, claiming that the lifeline road was not blocked by Azerbaijani government-backed protesters on December 12.
“We will continue to press this matter,” Bono said at the end of a trip to Yerevan during which he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other Armenian officials.
The U.S. diplomat held talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku earlier this week.
He arrived in the Azerbaijani capital on Sunday hours after a shootout in Karabakh left three Karabakh Armenian police officers and two Azerbaijani soldiers dead. The conflicting sides blamed each other for the incident that occurred four days after a meeting between Azerbaijani and Karabakh officials organized by Russian peacekeepers.
During that meeting, the Karabakh representatives refused to discuss the Armenian-populated territory’s “integration” into Azerbaijan demanded by Baku.
Asked whether Washington could also arrange contacts between Baku and Stepanakert, Bono said: “Our role in this process is not to serve as a mediator. We are not here to impose language, conditions on any of the parties. What we are trying to do is to facilitate a peace. What I mean by that is that we want the parties to develop the language, the conditions, to accept them together. They need to work this out amongst themselves.”
The envoy also noted that Karabakh should be part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process.
“In order to have a peace agreement that is going to be sustainable, durable and balanced, it has to include Nagorno-Karabakh, and we are committed to seeing this through,” he said. “We recognize the importance of that.”