Putin, Erdogan urge Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks

Mourners attend the funeral of Major Garush Hambardzumyan, who was killed in recent border clashes between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Yerevan, Armenia, July 16. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Putin, Erdogan urge Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks

  • Putin and Erdogan said the dispute must be settled “on the basis of international law in the interests of the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan”
  • The uptick in violence has been unusual as it broke out hundreds of kilometers from Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s southwestern region seized by Armenian separatists in a 1990s war

YEREVAN, Armenia: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Monday called for peace talks to end clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Kremlin said.
The phone call at Turkey’s initiative took place after Armenia’s military said one of its soldiers was killed by sniper fire from across the border with Azerbaijan in the latest bout of deadly violence.
Border clashes erupted in mid-July between the ex-Soviet republics, which have for decades been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh.
Nineteen people — including the Armenian soldier — have been killed on both sides in the recent border clashes so far.
Putin and Erdogan discussed the conflict and the Russian strongman “underlined the importance of not allowing any actions that promote an escalation in tensions,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

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Regional powerbroker Moscow as well as Western powers have called for an immediate de-escalation amid fears that Russia and Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, could be drawn into a confrontation.
Both Putin and Erdogan said they backed “resolving the conflict situation exclusively in a peaceful way, through talks.”
Russia has offered to mediate peace talks between the South Caucasus countries.
Putin and Erdogan said the dispute must be settled “on the basis of international law in the interests of the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the Kremlin said.
Armenia’s defense ministry on Monday said that one of its troops was “killed by sniper fire from the direction of the enemy” overnight — after a week of relative calm on the border.
Azerbaijan for its part accused Armenia of using “large calibre machine guns and sniper rifles” and violating a cease-fire multiple times along the border over the past 24 hours.
The uptick in violence has been unusual as it broke out hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s southwestern region seized by ethnic Armenian separatists in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.
The recent violence has included artillery shelling and mortar fire, with both sides blaming one another and Azerbaijan threatening to strike Armenia’s nuclear power station if its strategic facilities were attacked.


White House official went to Syria seeking Americans’ release

A deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and the top White House counterterrorism official flew to Damascus to negotiate the hostages' release. (File/Reuters)
Updated 8 min 4 sec ago

White House official went to Syria seeking Americans’ release

  • It has been more than a decade since a high-level White House official had met with Assad's government
  • Syria erupted into civil war nearly a decade ago after Assad in 2011 began a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family’s rule

WASHINGTON, DC: A White House official traveled to Damascus earlier this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of at least two US citizens thought to be held there, a Trump administration official said on Sunday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, named the official as Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and the top White House counterterrorism official, saying he had flown to Damascus.
“It is emblematic of how President Trump has made it a major priority to bring Americans home who have been detained overseas,” said the official, who was confirming a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The newspaper, citing Trump administration officials and others familiar with the negotiations, described Patel’s trip as the first time such a high-level US official had met in Syria with the isolated government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in more than a decade.
Syria erupted into civil war nearly a decade ago after Assad in 2011 began a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family’s rule.
The newspaper said US officials hoped a deal with Assad could free Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012, and Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American therapist who disappeared after being stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint in 2017.
At least four other Americans are believed to be held by the Syrian government, the newspaper reported, but little is known about those cases.
The Journal reported that Trump wrote Assad a private letter in March, proposing a “direct dialogue” about Tice.
It said that Lebanon’s top security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, met last week at the White House with national security adviser Robert O’Brien to discuss the Americans held in Syria, according to people involved in the talks.
Talks with Syria have not gotten very far, according to people briefed on them, the newspaper reported, saying Damascus has repeatedly demanded Washington withdraw all its forces from the country.