Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict: Russia says will consider Iran's proposal to end fighting
Russia is considering an Iranian proposal for ending the conflict in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after three ceasefires failed to halt fighting that is now in its sixth week.
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Iran’s proposal was made by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Abaqchi during a visit to Moscow last week but gave no further details, Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday.
"We're looking carefully at it," Rudenko told journalists.
At least 1,000 people, and possibly up to 5,000, have been killed since fighting broke out on 27 September in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
The worst fighting in more than 25 years has underlined the influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in the South Caucasus, a region that was once part of the Soviet Union and long dominated by Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
Iran's peace initiative
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s, prompting a long unresolved conflict that has seen tens of thousands of people killed.
Both Turkey and Israel have fervently supported Azerbaijan's claims to territorial integrity, while Armenia has been historically closer to Iran and Russia.
Negotiations have for decades been led by Russia, France and the United States in their roles as co-chairs of a panel known as the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security and rights watchdog.
For decades, negotiation in the region has been led by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a security and rights watchdog.
However last week Tehran proposed a leading role in peace negotiations for countries in the region, Russian news agencies reported.
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif presented an initiative that Tehran had drawn up to help establish peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Tasnim news agency reported.
“Since the beginning of the Karabakh crisis, we have been holding consultations with the regional countries, including the Azerbaijan Republic and Armenia as well as Russia and Turkey,” Zarif was quoted as saying on the government's official website.
“Among the key points of our country’s initiative is that it does not concern a ceasefire only; rather, the plan is aimed at settling the conflict within a framework which becomes effective when both sides undertake to remain committed to a series of principles and remains in effect as more measures are adopted, including the withdrawal of occupying forces from all occupied areas,” he stated.
Iran was waiting for the four countries to “express their views on this plan”, the minister added.
Within hours of an agreement being reached with the warring sides on Friday not to target civilians, attacks resumed, and concerns remain about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.
Advances by their forces on the battlefield have reduced Azerbaijan's incentive to reach a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a ceasefire - in which Turkey wants a bigger role.
Azerbaijan's defence ministry reported combat operations on Tuesday in the Zangilan and Gubadli regions of Nagorno-Karabakh near the border with Iran, and in the Aghdere and Khojavend regions - known by Armenia as Martakert and Martuni - in the north and east of the conflict zone.
Azerbaijan said its positions on the border with Armenia had been fired on with mortar bombs and small arms and that the city of Fizuli, between Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran, and surrounding villages were being shelled.
Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan denied the reported shelling of Fizuli. Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said fighting was continuing in the eastern part of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Kamran Aliyev, Azerbaijan's prosecutor general, told Reuters in an interview that advancing Azeri troops had found an empty city in Fizuli, a large town in Soviet times.
"Our military were not even able to put a flag on anything there, because there were no buildings," he said in the capital, Baku, adding he would consider opening a criminal investigation into what he said had been the destruction of historical buildings.
The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry says 1,177 of its troops have been killed since 27 September. Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties, while Russia has estimated 5,000 deaths on both sides.