Thursday, Iran Continues To Oppose ‘External Forces’ In Caucasus • Nane Sahakian Armenia - Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani meets senior Armenian diplomats, Yerevan, . Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani reaffirmed Tehran’s opposition to the presence of “external forces” in the South Caucasus after holding talks with senior Armenian diplomats on Wednesday. Bagheri visited Yerevan for what the Armenian Foreign Ministry described as “regular political consultations” between the two neighboring states. Regional security topped the agenda of his meetings with his Armenian opposite number, Vahan Kostanian, as well as Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan. “We noted that it is the regional states that are the guarantors of peace and stability and that the presence of external forces cannot contribute to peace and stability because they pursue different goals,” Bagheri told reporters after the talks. He did not specify those forces. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi similarly spoke out against “the presence of outside forces” in the region when he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Tehran in November. The remarks followed the first deployment of European Union monitors to Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. The EU launched another, more long-term monitoring mission there last month, prompting strong criticism from Russia, Iran’s de facto ally. Moscow accused the EU as well as the United States of using the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to squeeze it out of the South Caucasus. Armenian officials have since tried to ally the Russian fears. Meeting with Bagheri, Mirzoyan and Kostanian praised the current state of Iranian-Armenian relations. “We try to make our positions on regional and international security more understandable to each other,” Kostanian said after the talks. The Iranian diplomat visited Yerevan amid growing tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone. In recent weeks, Armenian officials have accused Azerbaijan of planning another large-scale military attack on Armenia and Karabakh. Russian Soldiers ‘Wounded On Armenian-Azeri Border’ • Artak Khulian Armenian - Russian border guards stationed in Syunik province are inspected by Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin, May 24, 2022. Russia said on Thursday that it is investigating reports that Russian soldiers came under Azerbaijani fire while searching for an Armenian serviceman who went missing on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan on Tuesday. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Martiros Gyulambarian, a military truck driver, strayed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory in thick fog as he transported food to his comrades manning an Armenian border post near the southeastern town of Goris. Gyulambarian was found and evacuated on Wednesday as a result of a “search-and-rescue” operation, the ministry said without giving further details. Senior Armenian lawmakers insisted that the 40-year contract soldier was not captured by Azerbaijani troops. One of them, Armen Khachatrian, confirmed reports that Russian soldiers stationed in the Goris area also searched for Gyulambarian. “According to my information, they agreed with the Azerbaijani side that their UAZ vehicle carrying a Russian flag will enter Azerbaijani-controlled territory to find and evacuate our serviceman,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “However, face-to-face fire was opened on them.” Haykakan Zhamanak, an Armenian daily belonging to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, also accused the Azerbaijani side of firing at the Russian military vehicle. It released photographs of the SUV with at least three bullets holes on its windscreen and rear window. Two injured Russian servicemen were reportedly admitted to a hospital in Goris on Wednesday and discharged from it a few hours later. The hospital director said he does not know the cause of their injuries. Russia’s Defense Ministry issued no statements on the reported shooting as of Thursday afternoon. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the Defense Ministry is investigating the “circumstances of the incident.” “I think that we should wait for the results of that investigation,” Zakharova told a news briefing when asked to comment on it. Russia deployed soldiers and border guards to Armenia’s Syunik province, including the Goris area, during and after the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The deployment was aimed at helping the Armenian military defend the strategic region against possible Azerbaijani attacks. U.S. ‘Pressing Azerbaijan’ On Karabakh Blockade Nagorno-Karabakh - Empty shelves at a supermarket in Stepanakert, January 17, 2023. The United States keeps pressing Azerbaijan to lift its continuing blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh’s land link with Armenia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late on Wednesday. “I’m pressing on Azerbaijan, including as recently as this week, to reopen that corridor. We’re working on that,” he told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Blinken clearly referred to his March 21 phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during which he reaffirmed, according to the State Department, the “importance of reopening the Lachin corridor to commercial and private vehicles.” Aliyev again claimed that the corridor was not blocked by Azerbaijani government-backed protesters and described reports to the contrary as “false Armenian propaganda.” He told Blinken that Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross have escorted thousands of vehicles through that road over the last three months. Answering a question from pro-Armenian Senator Bob Menendez, Blinken said there are “real problems in the Lachin corridor with the ability of people, private citizens, commercial traffic to get what’s needed to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Nagorno-Karabakh - A woman and her son have a dinner at their home in Stepanakert amid a power blackout, January 18, 2023. Karabakh has been experiencing serious shortages of food, medicine and other essential items ever since Azerbaijani protesters blocked on December 12 the sole road connecting it to Armenia on ostensibly environmental grounds. The authorities in Stepanakert had to start rationing in January food staples such as sunflower oil, sugar, rice and salt. The shortages have been compounded by disruptions in Armenia’s supplies of electricity and natural gas to Karabakh carried out through Azerbaijani-controlled territory. Baku reportedly blocked the gas supply late on Wednesday for the 13th time since the start of the blockade. The continuing blockade has also disrupted much of economic activity in the Armenian-populated region with a population of up to 120,000 people. According to Karabakh’s leadership, as many as 9,000 local residents have lost their jobs since December. The United States as well as the European Union and Russia have repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to lift the road blockade. The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, made a point of visiting an Armenian border checkpoint leading to the Lachin corridor earlier this month. Another senior U.S. diplomat made clear, meanwhile, that Washington is not considering imposing sanctions on Baku because of the blockade. Pashinian Vows Peace Deal With Azerbaijan Despite ‘Aggression’ • Ruzanna Stepanian Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian arrives for a news conference in Yerevan, March 14, 2023. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Thursday pledged to negotiate a peace treaty with Azerbaijan while again accusing Baku of fresh military aggression against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinian denounced as an “act of aggression” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s weekend statement made in a northern Karabakh village captured by Azerbaijani forces during the 2020 war. Aliyev declared there that he will not sign the peace treaty unless Yerevan recognizes Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan and accepts his terms for demarcating the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Armenians will not live in peace in the absence of such an accord, he warned. The Armenian Foreign Ministry responded by accusing Azerbaijan of laying claim to Armenia’s entire territory and “doing everything to make peace in the region impossible.” Pashinian likewise charged that Aliyev’s comments constitute a “blatant violation” of Armenian-Azerbaijani understandings reached last year. He also pointed out that an Armenian soldier was shot and killed by Azerbaijani troops on the border between the two South Caucasus states on Wednesday. The ceasefire violation is further proof that “Azerbaijan is leading the situation to a new escalation,” he said during a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. Nevertheless, Pashinian went on to state: “I want to send the following message to all of you and the international community: there will be a peace treaty and it and will be based on written documents reached at the highest levels to date.” The conflicting sides have exchanged in recent months written proposals regarding the treaty which Baku hopes will help to restore full Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Few of their details have been made public so far. The U.S. State Department reported “significant progress” in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a trilateral meeting with Aliyev and Pashinian in Munich last month. Blinken spoke on Wednesday of an “opportunity to bring a peace agreement to fruition.” He cautioned, though, that the peace process is “challenging and fraught.” Pashinian complained last week that Baku is rejecting most Armenian proposals on the would-be treaty and making more demands unacceptable to Armenia. He said that he will not sign any “capitulation” deals. Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2023 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.