By Felix Light
TBILISI (Reuters) -Armenia hopes to conclude a peace agreement with Azerbaijan in the coming months and establish diplomatic relations with it, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Thursday.
After decades of enmity between Baku and Yerevan, Azerbaijan last month retook the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive, prompting the mass exodus of most of its 120,000 ethnic Armenians to neighbouring Armenia.
Since then, the two South Caucasus countries have both declared a willingness to sign a peace deal, though progress has been fitful and regular border skirmishes have continued.
“In the coming months (we hope) we shall sign with Azerbaijan an agreement on peace and the establishment of diplomatic relations,” Pashinyan said through an interpreter at a forum in Tbilisi also attended by the prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ali Asadov told the forum that Baku had been committed to peace and the restoration of transport links with Armenia since 2020, but that progress hinged on Yerevan’s willingness to act.
Karabakh, regarded internationally as part of Azerbaijan, had been ruled by breakaway ethnic Armenians since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s until last month.
Pashinyan also said on Thursday that Armenia hopes to open its border with Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, to citizens of third countries and holders of diplomatic passports.
That frontier has been closed since 1993, when Turkey cut off relations with Armenia as war raged between Yerevan and Baku over Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey has declined to reopen the border without a peace settlement between Yerevan and Baku.
Separately, the Kremlin said on Thursday it hoped that Armenian authorities would clarify comments made by Pashinyan in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he saw no advantage in retaining Russian military bases in Armenia.
According to a full transcript of the interview published by Armenian state news agency Armenpress on Thursday, Pashinyan also said that Yerevan was “not discussing” calling on Russia to remove its troops from Armenia.
Russia has several military facilities in Christian Armenia, which remains a treaty ally of Moscow. Relations have soured in recent months, with Armenia accusing Moscow of failing to support it against mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, with which Russia is also allied.
In its turn, Moscow has accused Pashinyan of neglecting Armenia’s traditional close ties with Russia and pivoting increasingly towards the West.
(Reporting by Felix LightEditing by Gareth Jones)