Austria's top diplomat on Friday called on both sides of the conflict in Azerbaijan's autonomous breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to renew the political settlement process.
Marking the first anniversary of deadly clashes in the Azeri region, which is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), emphasized his hope for a fresh start in the largely stalled peace negotiations.
"Clashes and serious violations of the cease-fire on the Line of Contact, resulting in casualties, were of particular concern to us throughout the past year," Kurz said in a public statement. "It is now high time for a focus on pragmatic and practical steps for confidence-building as well as a resumption of substantive negotiations."
The United States, Russia and France, which co-chair OSCE's Minsk Group for conflict mediation, used diplomacy to halt the violence between Armenian-backed separatists and Azeri forces, which was the deadliest incident since a 1994 cease-fire established the current territorial division. Although they have been unable to secure a binding peace resolution, former U.S. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh said, the renewed push by the OSCE presents a rare opportunity for U.S. and Russian coordination.
"President [Donald] Trump had made clear during his campaign, and since then, that he would like to find a way to have more positive relations with Russia. This might be one of those areas where that is more easily tackled," said Cavanaugh, who once co-chaired the Minsk Group as a special negotiator alongside Russian and French diplomats.
Opportunity to surprise
"For two decades we've been working together as co-chairs on this, and I can tell you as a former co-chair — and I have talked with my successors — that the cooperation would surprise people," he said.
Unlike the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, Nagorno-Karabakh is place where U.S. and Russian interests converge. Considering the constant cease-fire violations since the 2016 clashes left more than 100 people dead, Nagorno-Karabakh, he said, cannot be considered a frozen conflict, but rather "a simmering one, which needs a lot of attention and has a lot of danger."
The only solution that can prevent further violence is close coordination between U.S. and Russian diplomats, whose nations would both benefit from a sustained peace in the region.
But that can only happen, Cavanaugh said, if both Azeri and Armenian-aligned factions show Washington and Moscow that they are ready to re-engage the peace process.
"The sides need to send clear signals to Moscow, to Washington, to Paris, that they are prepared now really to work on peace again."
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Armenian service.