U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said Turkey’s involvement in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has increased the risk in the region, reiterating his call for the issue to be resolved through diplomacy.
Several hundred people have been killed in the deadliest flare-up of the decades-old conflict since a 1990s war over Nagorno-Karabakh killed about 30,000 people.
Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians. The clashes have raised concerns that Turkey and Russia, which also back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, may get dragged in.
Rebuffing criticism from NATO allies, Turkey has accused Armenia of occupying Azeri territory and vowed full support for Azerbaijan. Ankara has repeatedly called on the Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, to urge Armenia to withdraw from the region.
“We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight,” Pompeo said in an interview with broadcaster WSB Atlanta.
“The resolution of that conflict ought to be done through negotiation and peaceful discussions, not through armed conflict, and certainly not with third party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation,” Pompeo said.
On Thursday, hopes of a humanitarian ceasefire sank as the death toll mounted and Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of launching new attacks.
“We’re hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing, and that they will all, before that takes place, get the ceasefire right, and then sit down at the table and try and sort through this,” Pompeo said.
Previously France and Germany had accused Turkey on Thursday of continuing to provoke the European Union with its actions in the eastern Mediterranean, and urged it to clarify its positions in the coming weeks.
Despite an EU summit deal on Oct. 2 aimed at persuading Ankara to stop exploring for natural gas in waters disputed by Greece and Cyprus, Turkey said on Wednesday it was restarting operations of a survey ship.
Turkey withdrew the vessel last month, just before the EU summit, at which economic sanctions were discussed, only to redeploy it on Monday.
The bloc said it would review the possibility of sanctions on Turkey at a European summit in December.
“It’s clear to us that Turkey is permanently carrying out provocative acts which are unacceptable,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference alongside his German and Polish counterparts.
He said the ball was in Ankara’s court, but that the European Union was ready to change the balance of power if Turkey didn’t return to dialogue.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey’s decision to send the vessel back to the Mediterranean was “inadmissible”.
Asked about the possibility of bringing forward EU sanctions, he said the bloc would to decide how to react in the coming weeks.
“It’s been twice that expected discussions have not taken place and we don’t know when they will happen,” he said. “We must wait to see if there is progress in the next weeks and then we’ll see what attitude needs to be adopted by the EU.”
A German Foreign Ministry official said Maas indicated that a decision might be taken in December, as envisaged when EU leaders met two weeks ago.
Le Drian criticised Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where it supports Azerbaijan against ethnic Armenians.
“There will not be a military victory on this issue so the ceasefire must be implemented,” he said. “What we can see today is the only country which isn’t calling for respect of the ceasefire is Turkey and that’s damaging.”