Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Congress increases pressure on Trump administration to curb Turkey and contain Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

Legislators criticise Turkish role in fighting and threaten to suspend security aid to Baku

People look at destroyed houses in Ganja, Azerbaijan, a day after shelling by Armenian artillery during fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. AP
People look at destroyed houses in Ganja, Azerbaijan, a day after shelling by Armenian artillery during fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. AP

The Trump administration is facing mounting pressure from US legislators to exert its influence to stop a resurgence of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff and co-chairs of the House of Representatives’ Armenia Caucus introduced a resolution on October 1 “condemning Azerbaijan’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabkah and denouncing Turkish interference in the conflict”.

The resolution, sponsored by 50 Democrats and six Republicans, “supports an immediate return to the ceasefire agreement along the line of contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan”.

Mr Schiff suggested recognising Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, as an independent state.

“The United States should make clear to Azerbaijan and Turkey that if they persist in this violence instead of embracing a peaceful settlement of the conflict, we are prepared to recognise the Republic of Artsakh as an independent nation and to work with the international community to achieve the same,” Mr Schiff said on Friday.

Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed on a ceasefire, which came into effect on Saturday, but both immediately claimed it had been breached.

The October 1 bill affirmed support for the Minsk Group’s efforts “to secure an agreement from Azerbaijan to cease offensive military operations against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, and to accept independent third-party monitoring along the line of contact”.

The group was formed in 1992 to encourage peace efforts in the region and includes representatives from Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The legislation also highlights Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and “the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s claim that Turkey is operating F-16 fighter jets in the region”.

A group of 12 Senate Democrats, led by minority leader Chuck Schumer and top foreign relations committee member Bob Menendez, went even further in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month.

Their letter calls on the State Department to immediately suspend all US security assistance to Azerbaijan and urges President Donald Trump to “convince Turkey to immediately disengage from the conflict”.

“The US must immediately suspend all security assistance to Azerbaijan,” the senators wrote.

In 2019, the US gave $43 million in security aid to Baku.

“Given the possibility that this conflict could engulf the region and draw in other external actors, it is imperative that the US use its diplomatic leverage to bring about an immediate ceasefire.”

The letter condemned Turkey’s role in the conflict and criticised Mr Trump's faith in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"From Libya to Syria and in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has made its intentions clear: it does not seek to be a constructive player on the world stage,” it said.

At the weekend, at least three Democratic Congressmen took part in pro-Armenian protests across the US.

The Trump administration has been largely silent over the conflict and there is no sign that the current pressure will change its stance.

“Our view is that this has been a long-standing conflict between these two countries in this particular piece of real estate,” Mr Mike Pompeo told Fox News this month.

“We think outsiders ought to stay out. We’re urging a ceasefire.”

The clashes so far have killed more than 300 people.

Nicholas Danforth, a senior fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said the Trump administration was overwhelmed with domestic politics.

“Between the election, the Supreme Court appointment and the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Trump does not have a lot of attention to devote to a conflict that he wouldn't care about in even the best circumstances,” Mr Danforth said.

The US election is three weeks away, and Mr Trump has two close allies, Turkey and Israel, backing Azerbaijan in the conflict.

But the administration’s silence could backfire on the Republican Party in the November 3 elections. There are more than 1.5 million Armenian-Americans eligible to vote.

The campaign of Democratic contender Joe Biden has hosted at least one event this month to court the Armenian-American vote in states including Michigan and Florida.

There are more than 70,000 refugees from the current fighting, human rights organisations say.

But while Mr Danforth did not see the administration’s reluctant involvement as a sign of a weakening US influence, others described a global shift.

Writing in Open Caucasus Media, analyst Laurence Broers said the conflict brings emboldened regional actors and a disengaged US.

“Turkey’s active involvement is a symptom of a wider regional and global shift, from the unipolar international order led by the United States dominant at the end of the 20th century, to a multipolar order contested by a number of global and regional powers," Mr Broers wrotge.

“Russia and Turkey are two such powers, intervening in numerous theatres of conflict across the Middle East while the United States disengages.”

Updated: October 13, 2020 01:21 AM

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