In an Oct. 3 phone call, lawmakers pressed Blinken on possible measures against Aliyev in response to his country’s invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September, the people said, who were granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive call.
Blinken responded that the State Department was looking at avenues to hold Azerbaijan accountable and isn’t planning to renew a long-standing waiver that allows the U.S. to provide military assistance to Baku. He added that State saw a possibility that Azerbaijan would invade southern Armenia in the coming weeks.
Still, Blinken expressed confidence about ongoing diplomatic talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan to the Democratic lawmakers, among them Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Anna Eshoo of California, and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
Two additional people confirmed that a briefing happened on the situation in Azerbaijan, but did not provide details.
In a statement, the State Department declined to comment on the call, but emphasized the department’s commitment to “Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and resolving conflict through “direct talks.”
The decision to hold off on renewing the waiver is also telling. Every year since since 2002, the U.S. has issued the waiver, allowing it to sidestep a provision of the Freedom Support Act that bars the U.S. from providing military assistance to Azerbaijan in light of its ongoing territorial disputes with Armenia. The waiver lapsed in June and State had previously provided no explanation as to why it hadn’t yet requested a renewal
Since the briefing, Pallone has said publicly that he’s worried Azerbaijan could invade soon. “Aliyev is moving forward with his objective to take Southern Armenia,” Pallone tweeted Wednesday, arguing that “his regime is emboldened after facing little consequences” for invading Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s military incursion into that region last month prompted more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh to flee. Local leaders capitulated as part of a Russia-brokered surrender and agreed to dissolve their three-decades-old unrecognized state. Azerbaijani forces have since detained more than a dozen ex-leaders.
In a Sept. 20 statement, Blinken said he was “deeply concerned by Azerbaijan’s military actions” and declared that “the use of force to resolve disputes is unacceptable.”
But Nagorno-Karabakh is not the only territorial dispute between the two Caucasus countries. Baku has proposed a route to the Nakhichevan exclave that would cut through Armenia’s southern Syunik region, known in Azerbaijani as Zangezur, and enable road traffic to bypass Iran.
Aliyev has said “we will be implementing the Zangezur Corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not.”
“In Armenia, this is perceived as territorial claims and a demand for an extraterritorial corridor,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday, in response to growing calls from Ankara and Baku to come to an agreement.
There have long been tensions at the border: In September 2022, Azerbaijan launched an assault across the border to capture strategic high ground in the east and south of Armenia. More recently, on Sept. 1 of this year, three Armenian servicemen were killed after Azerbaijan launched “retaliatory measures” in response to an alleged drone attack.
In an interview on Wednesday, Hikmet Hajiyev, Aliyev’s senior foreign policy adviser, denied Azerbaijan has any claims on Armenian territory. He said that the risk of conflict was low because “the last two weeks had been the calmest weeks in the history of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations — there are no longer soldiers in the trenches staring at one another” in the wake of actions in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Azerbaijan restored what legally, historically and morally was ours” with its self-described “anti-terror” campaign in the region, and has no intention of pushing into de jure Armenian areas, he added.
Eric Bazail-Eimil reported from Washington. Gabriel Gavin reported from Baku, Azerbaijan.