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US push for Azerbaijan, Turkey to make peace with Armenia an uphill battle

Despite some hopeful noises from Washington on a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, most Armenians hold out little hope as Azerbaijan continues to resist approving a draft that Armenian and Western officials are promoting.

YEREVAN, Armenia — An “extraordinary opportunity to realize a peace agreement” between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two long-warring foes in the South Caucasus, is “really within reach.” The ebullient pronouncement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Brookings Institution Monday rang depressingly hollow for most Armenians as Azerbaijan continues to resist calls from Washington to approve a draft peace document that Armenian and Western officials confirm could, with the odd tweak, be signed in a day.

Cranking up the pressure for a rare foreign policy win amid the crises in Gaza and Ukraine, the Biden administration has invited Armenia and Azerbaijan's foreign ministers to attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington, where ideally the finally touches to the accord would be agreed.

The move follows Blinken’s June 20 telephone call with Aliyev during which the former “underscored the significance of concluding an agreement without delay.” Reading between the lines of the State Department’s readout of the exchange, Blinken hinted that scrutiny of Azerbaijan’s shoddy human rights record would otherwise grow.

Those messages were likely repeated last week by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs James C. O’Brien in Baku, where he met Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov. In his public comments, O’Brien talked up the so-called “Middle Corridor,” a vaguely defined trade route running from Central Asia through the Caspian Sea on to the Caucasus and further west into Turkey. O’Brien said that “10 million people from Tajikistan to [Turkey] will benefit from the opening of the corridor, adding, "We believe that this should be done with the consent of all interested parties, and we know that it starts with an understanding between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

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