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Zarif expresses hope for de-escalation between Azerbaijan, Armenia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iranian foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Armenian counterpart Ara Ayvazyan

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described the Caucasus as a “vital region,” stressing that lasting peace and security there is a matter of national security for Iran.

Zarif, who is in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, made the remarks in a meeting with the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ara Ayvazyan on Wednesday.

He reaffirmed Iran’s principled policy vis-à-vis the Karabakh dispute since the 1990s and underscored the need to respect the territorial integrity of all regional countries as well as peaceful settlement of conflicts.

Zarif pointed to Iran’s efforts over the past months to contribute to a peaceful resolution of regional disputes. While voicing concerns over the recent confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the top diplomat stressed the need for the parties to the conflict to show restraint, respect each other’s territorial integrity and make efforts to resolve disputes through dialog.

He said Iran is unsettled by any tension in the region and highlighted safeguarding internationally recognized borders as well as countries’ territorial integrity as a red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He also hoped that regional tensions, including the Baku-Yerevan dispute, would further decrease so that countries of the region could move towards stability and increase interactions for the sake of the peoples of the region.

For his part, the Armenian official called for constant consultations and dialogue between leaders of the two countries and expressed hope that bilateral ties would further expand in different sectors.

Referring to the fresh border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent weeks, he admitted that such incidents go against the stability and calm in the region.

Earlier in the day, Zarif also met with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

During his meeting with Pashinyan, Zarif expressed Iran’s support for maintaining stability in the region and guaranteeing Armenia’s territorial integrity and expressed regret over the recent clashes on the country’s border with Azerbaijan.

He also hoped for further deepening of economic relations between the two neighbors and said the development of Meghri Free Economic Zone and the revival of the Iran-Nakhchivan-Armenia rail link could help boost bilateral ties.

Pashinyan, for his part, said relations with Iran are of strategic importance to Armenia.

He also briefed the top Iranian diplomat on the latest developments surrounding the Karabakh region.

Among other issues discussed in the meeting were gas and electricity exchanges, an increase of gas exports to Armenia, cooperation in the field of infrastructure as well as scientific and educational cooperation.

In his meeting with Sarkissian, Zarif pointed to the friendly and historical relations between the two nations, and reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to peace and stability in the region.

Sarkissian also stressed the importance of deepening bilateral relations between Iran and Armenia and hailed Iran as a reliable partner and a friend of his country.

Prior to his visit to Yerevan, Zarif went to Baku, where he sat down for talks with Azerbaijan’s officials, including President Ilham Aliyev, on Tehran-Baku relations as well as major issues of regional and international significance.

The top Iranian diplomat's visit to the capitals of the two neighboring countries comes as Tehran has been seeking to further enhance diplomatic efforts especially since last year when fresh clashes broke out between the two ex-Soviet republics over Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been occupied by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia since 1992 when they broke from Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 30,000 people.

Six weeks of fighting, which erupted in late September, were brought to a close with a Russian-brokered ceasefire in November that secured territorial advances for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts.

The two sides, however, accuse each other of violating the fragile ceasefire, with tensions still high after last September’s war.

Armenia’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that one of its soldiers was killed in a border shoot-out with Azerbaijani forces, over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, adding that the shoot-out took place on its eastern border with Azerbaijan.

Later on Tuesday, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, however, denied accusations by Armenia that it had fired across the border at Armenian positions, saying the incident involving the death of an Armenian soldier was an accident and it has nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side.

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