Washington to host talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, warring sides say

(Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan said on Tuesday their foreign ministers would meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday in efforts to end the heaviest fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1990s.

The State Department did not immediately comment. But the planned meetings suggest that, just before the U.S. presidential election, Washington is stepping up involvement in moves to calm a conflict that has killed hundreds of people since Sept. 27.

Russia has until now driven mediation efforts over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway enclave within Azerbaijan that is controlled by ethnic Armenians, but two ceasefires brokered by Moscow this month have not stopped the fighting.

The two ex-Soviet republics said there was intense fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, with the enclave reporting 43 more of its defence personnel had been killed.

The violence has raised fears that regional powers Turkey and Russia could be sucked into a wider conflict, and concern about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry natural gas and oil to world markets.

It was not immediately clear whether the warring sides’ foreign ministers would meet Pompeo separately or at the same time.

Azerbaijan said its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would also meet envoys of the OSCE security and rights watchdog’s so-called Minsk Group, whose co-chairs Russia, France and the United States have for years led mediation in the conflict.

Armenia released few details about Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s plans in Washington.

Turkey is also part of the Minsk Group but has not been involved in mediation, and its relations with its NATO allies have been further strained by the fighting.

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