Iran hosts Armenia-Azerbaijan talks, Russia says main issue resolved in Nagorno-Karabakh

(Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met on Monday in Iran, their first talks since Azerbaijan secured control over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with Russia saying the main issue had been resolved pending further work on a peace treaty.

The meeting in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive into the disputed territory also took place against the background of rising tensions in the Middle East.

“The conflict has, on the whole, been settled. Both sides agree that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and that was the main issue to be settled,” Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying in Tehran.

“Of course, practical steps remain for a full normalisation of relations, particularly preparations for a peace treaty, the demarcation of borders and the establishment of economic transport links without impediment.”

Ministers from Iran and Turkey, a key ally of Azerbaijan, also attended. A joint statement said participants agreed to respect the territorial integrity of countries in the region.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said before the meeting that the talks represented a “historic opportunity…. The war in South Caucasus has ended, and it is time for peace and cooperation.”

“The presence of outsiders in the region will not only not solve any problems but will also complicate the situation further,” he added, without elaborating.

That was an implicit reference to the United States and the European Union, whose involvement in the search for a peace agreement has particularly annoyed Russia.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, quoted by state media, said Tehran “was ready to assist in resolving the existing disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia”.

Russia regards itself as the security guarantor between Azerbaijan and Armenia – both former Soviet republics – but the demands and distractions of its war in Ukraine have led to a weakening of its influence in the South Caucasus.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, in a statement posted on the X social media platform, said Ankara hoped the talks would “give impetus to normalisation and peace processes”.

In Paris, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said France was helping improve Armenia’s air defence capacity with the sale of three radars and an agreement on the future delivery of Mistral anti-air missiles.

Nagorno-Karabakh is viewed internationally as part of Azerbaijan but had been controlled by breakaway ethnic Armenians since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Azerbaijan’s recapture of Karabakh has prompted the exodus of most of the region’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing, while Azerbaijan said the Armenians were welcome to return.

Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan have fought two wars over three decades and have failed to seal a peace deal despite long-running efforts by the United States, EU and Russia.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Felix Light in Tbilisi, additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankaera; Editing by Ron Popeski, Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)