Analyzing the Washington talks: Baku and Yerevan’s views diverge on 3 major issues

Analyzing the Washington talks: Baku and Yerevan’s views diverge on 3 major issues

                                                                                                                   (The following article was originally published on

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan led their respective delegations in four-day talks that concluded in Washington last Thursday. The negotiations were carefully planned by the United States over several weeks, with Louis Bono, the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, spending a week in the region in April, likely to work on organizing the talks. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Erika Olson also visited the region during the same time, reportedly for the same reason.

After several months of “online” negotiations on the draft text of a peace agreement, officially titled the “Bilateral agreement on peace and the establishment of interstate relations,’’ the sides were supposed to bridge their differences on the remaining issues and achieve at least some intermediate outcomes. The State Department likely hoped for the adoption of a joint statement similar to the one agreed upon in Prague last year.

However, by the end of the Washington summit, the sides managed only to agree on the text for an identical press release.

It was noted in that statement that “the Ministers and their teams advanced mutual understanding on some articles of the draft bilateral Agreement on Peace and Establishment of Interstate Relations, meanwhile acknowledging that the positions on some key issues remain divergent.”

During the final session of the negotiations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken struck a positive note and stressed that the talks had made tangible progress, noting that an agreement was within reach.


Baku and Yerevan have completely diverging views on three major issues

Despite the upbeat rhetoric from the United States and progress in certain areas, differences over key issues remain, and it will be hard to find compromises in the near future.

There are three major subjects on which Baku and Yerevan have completely diverging views.

The first and most important one is the issue of establishing a direct mechanism for talks between Baku and Stepanakert. Armenia is ready to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan only if the creation of this format is agreed upon. The Armenian government needs assurances that, after the conclusion of the peace deal, issues related to Nagorno-Karabakh will be addressed through direct talks between Baku and Stepanakert. Yerevan’s position is that an international mechanism is necessary to ensure the continuity of those negotiations.

However, Azerbaijan excludes any possibility of international involvement in matters related to Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku’s aim is to hold meetings with representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh with a so-called “integration agenda” and without any third party involvement, using those quasi-talks as window dressing and a substitute for an international mechanism for negotiations.

It is clear that this issue represents a red line for both sides. By signing a peace treaty without establishing an international mechanism for direct talks between Baku and Stepanakert, Yerevan would, in the words of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, give Baku “a mandate for ethnic cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore, without agreeing on this format, it would be incredibly difficult to sell the peace deal to the Armenian public, which already does not support the government’s policies on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The latest polling, organized by the International Republican Institute, indicates that nearly 70% of Armenia’s population is dissatisfied with Pashinyan’s approaches and actions regarding Nagorno-Karabakh.

This is а red line for Baku as well because the establishment of a negotiating format with international involvement would nullify two of its main post-war narratives: first, that the conflict is over; and second, that issues related to Nagorno-Karabakh are purely domestic matters for Azerbaijan. It would also give agency to the authorities in Stepanakert.

So, it is improbable that a compromise on this issue could be reached through negotiations, and Baku is likely to pursue a policy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Yerevan to abandon its position on an international negotiating mechanism for Stepanakert.

Baku and Yerevan have yet to find common ground on another crucial matter: border disputes. While Armenia is willing to start the delimitation process using maps from the late Soviet period, essentially acknowledging the Soviet-era administrative border as the new state border, Baku talks about delimitation based on historical maps. In a recent speech, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted that the delimitation process must be carried out under Azerbaijan’s conditions.

It’s also clear that Baku has no intention of retreating from the sovereign territories of Armenia that it has been occupying since May 2021. By seizing control of key heights and positions within Armenian territory, the Azerbaijani armed forces have secured a tactical advantage. And it is hard to imagine any tangible progress in peace treaty talks without Baku’s willingness to withdraw its forces from the territory of Armenia.

Finally, Yerevan is seeking clear guarantees that Baku will comply with any document that is signed, particularly in light of Azerbaijan’s increasing violations of the November 2020 ceasefire statement. The Washington talks were held amid the backdrop of Azerbaijan’s recent installation of a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor and its further tightening of the ongoing blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh. Yerevan firmly believes that, without specific mechanisms in place to ensure the treaty’s implementation, it will be nothing more than a meaningless piece of paper.

At the same time, in the current volatile geopolitical environment, it is difficult to expect international guarantees for the implementation of any peace treaty. Despite the considerable time and effort the United States has invested in organizing the latest round of talks, it is surely not prepared to assume greater responsibility in the region. Washington has made it clear that it is not acting as a mediator but rather as a facilitator, emphasizing the need for direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan. Other stakeholders, including the European Union, lack the leverage and resources necessary to enforce the provisions of any deal. Furthermore, Baku has no interest in the creation of such mechanisms, as it wishes to remain flexible in the future.
These significant differences, particularly regarding the negotiation format for Nagorno-Karabakh, leave very little room for optimism. Even if the vast majority of the text is agreed upon, a peace treaty will not be signed if the parties fail to find solutions to the outstanding issues described above.

It is also apparent that Baku is only interested in signing a document if it is based solely on its own perceptions and positions. Otherwise, Azerbaijan appears prepared to achieve its goals through the use of force.

In this regard, it can be concluded that the signing of a peace treaty will only be possible if Yerevan abandons its positions on a number of crucial issues. But even in such a case, it will be difficult to talk about equitable and comprehensive peace in the region.


Tigran Grigoryan

Head of the Regional Center for Democracy and Security