Pompeo’s meeting with the Azerbaijani and Armenian Prime Minister Takeaways: Commentary

Jeyhun Bayramov @bayramov_jeyhun Twitter

By | Rachel Brooks

October 23, 2020

The following is a commentary on U.S. political positions and key takeaways of the U.S. State Department mediation discussions on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict 2020. 

Above, State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov. 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Foreign Minister of Armenia and the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan on October 23. The U.S. State Secretary was quoted as saying that he holds out hope “the right path forward” can be achieved. The United States spoke with the two foreign officials as fighting continued in Nagorno-Karabakh. Secretary Pompeo’s talk followed two failed ceasefire mitigation attempts by Russian diplomats. 

Mr. Pompeo stressed the need for “substantive negotiations” and maintained the United States’ neutral stance in the conflict. 

The official statement of the meetings on October 23 was recorded via the U.S. State Department as follows: 

“The following is attributable to Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus:

 Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov separately today in Washington, D.C. Secretary Pompeo emphasized the need to end the violence and protect civilians. The Secretary also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

An official transcript of the meetings was not made available to the public. 

“During separate meetings with Armenian Foreign Minister @ZMnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister @bayramov_jeyhun, we discussed critical steps to halt the violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” said Pompeo, in a statement from his official Twitter. 

The Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan made no public comment via his Twitter. His counterpart, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov made a public comment via Twitter regarding the effects of Armenian policy in the conflict region. 

“Had a meeting with  #US Secretary of State @SecPompeo and informed him on the destructive policy of #Armenia, including shelling the #Azerbaijani towns & civilians, deployment of mercenaries & terrorists and etc,” wrote Bayramov via Twitter. 

“We also exchanged views on bilateral U.S. and Azerbaijani relations.” 

The U.S. did not officially back either side. However, the United States has a strong position against Armenian allies in the conflict. One such ally, which increases its tense review of the scenario, is bordering Iran. On October 23, Pompeo directly referenced the Iranian regime’s interference in U.S. elections. 

“We won’t let the Iranian regime’s latest efforts to interfere in our elections undermine our democracy. We’ve made clear there are consequences for such behavior, and yesterday we sanctioned five Iranian entities,” stated Pompeo, via Twitter. 

Due to the United States’ continued vigilance against Iranian regime activity, the United States is not likely to back the same militant causes. The complexity of the relationship that the South Caucasus has to governments deemed political threats to United States interests keeps the U.S. vigilantly neutral. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was quoted by IRNA News Agency on October 21 as welcoming the involvement of Iran in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

We welcome any constructive measure initiated by #Iran to establish peace and stability in the region,” tweeted Pashinyan, along with the link to an Arabic-language report from IRNA News. 

Moscow has been a delicate mediator of the situation. As Armenia is a member of the CSTO organization, and as Russia has a military base in Armenia, the Russian diplomats are reluctant to directly engage in the conflict. Russia is likewise a member of the OSCE Minsk Group. 

The United States likewise has an increased vigilance against the Russian political powers as of October 23. This was stated by the United States State Department record as follows in the release “United States Sanctions Russian Government Research Institution.” 

“The United States remains steadfast in countering malign cyber activities by Russian actors on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation. Today, we designated a Russian government research institution directly connected to the destructive and life-threatening Triton malware – also known as TRISIS and HatMan– pursuant to Section 224 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

The Triton malware was designed to specifically target and manipulate industrial safety systems. Such systems provide for the safe emergency shutdown of industrial processes at critical infrastructure facilities in order to protect human life. Today’s designation of the State Research Center of the Russian Federation FGUP Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics (TsNIIKhM), a Russian government-controlled research institution responsible for building customized tools that enable Triton malware attacks, highlights the threat the Russian government poses to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. In 2017, a cyber-attack using Triton malware disrupted operations at a petrochemical plant in the Middle East. Additionally, the actors behind the malware have reportedly scanned and probed U.S. facilities.

While the Russian government claims to be a responsible actor in cyberspace, it continues to engage in dangerous and malicious activities that threaten the security of the United States and our allies. We will not relent in our efforts to respond to these activities using all the tools at our disposal, including sanctions.”

Likewise, Mr. Pompeo made a public statement regarding Russian interference in U.S. politics. 

“The United States remains steadfast in countering malign cyber activities by Russian actors who are supported by the Government of Russia. Today, we designated a Russian government research institution directly connected to the destructive and life-threatening Triton malware,” said Pompeo via Twitter.

Due to the precarious involvement of Russia in Armenian military interests, and the United States’ own defensive positions against Russia, the U.S. is also not likely to directly back the Armenian cause directly based on these contingencies. While the United States has not changed its position, it has increased its surveillance on foreign actors that would seek to align with the Armenian offensive in the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. U.S. indirect involvement then, while remaining neutral, may still lessen the advantage of the Armenian offensive by its tight scrutiny of Armenia’s foreign compatriots. With a lesser force than the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, Armenia would be at a significant disadvantage lacking foreign support. 

While the Prime Minister of Armenia was meeting with the U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., the President of Armenia was meeting with Prime Minister of France Emmanuel Macron. France makes for the third member of the OSCE Minsk Group trifecta. The President of Armenia expressed in a tweet that his government held a “high value” of the “personal position” of President Macron in the conflict.