On the warpath?: Armenia calls on U.S., EU to threaten Azerbaijan with sanctions in case of repeated acts of sabotage

Some observers of the contentious atmosphere between Armenia and Azerbaijan are linking two incidents this week in which three Armenian and five Azerbaijani soldiers were killed, with the visit of United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region.

The Armenian side blames Azerbaijan for the loss of life, insisting that it only retaliates to acts of sabotage attempted by Baku. Azerbaijan, on the contrary, accuses Armenia of perpetrating sabotage.

One such cross-border incursion blamed on Azerbaijan on June 4 near the villages of Berdavan and Chinari of the Tavush province cost Armenia three killed and six wounded. The following night Armenia reported another aggression from Azerbaijan around the same area, saying that the Armenian soldiers repulsed the attack by a group of Azeri commandos killing five and wounding several. The Public TV of Armenia said Azerbaijan lost as many as 14 of its soldiers in that foiled attempt at overrunning Armenia’s defense positions.

“Azerbaijan is not satisfied by the fact that every day there are violations by Azerbaijanis on the line of contact of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. They are trying to transfer the tension, to escalate the situation onto the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan which greatly undermines the negotiation process, as well as threatens the regional stability. The responsibility for all possible consequences of such activities lies on the Azeri side,” said Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian during a June 4 joint press conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Clinton in Yerevan, hours after the first reported border fighting.

Clinton, for her part, said that “the use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”. “We are calling on everyone to renounce force as well as refrain from violence… The United States, along with the Minsk Group, is committed to doing everything we can. And I discussed some specific ideas with the president and the foreign minister today. I made it clear to the president that the United States believes that a peace settlement must be based upon Helsinki principles, the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples. And you can’t take one out. They have to be an integrated whole in order to arrive at a sustainable solution,” said Clinton.

Meanwhile, a number of pro-Armenian congressmen in the United States, including Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on Monday issued strong statements condemning a brazen cross-border Azerbaijani attack against Armenia. In separate statements issued within hours of the Azerbaijani attacks, the Members of Congress urged Secretary Clinton to issue a clear and unequivocal rebuke of Azerbaijani aggression, expressed concern about pending U.S. arms sales to an increasingly violent Aliyev regime, called for the strengthening of Section 907 restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan, and offered their condolences to the families of the slain soldiers.

In his turn, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan urged the European Union to issue a three-point resolution to Azerbaijan in a bid to curb the militarization of the South Caucasus. At the end of a two-day visit to Brussels (June 3-4), Sargsyan told European Voice, a leading source for EU news and affairs, that “the EU should draw up a declaration stipulating that the festering dispute over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved peacefully, threatening sanctions if force is used and setting out what those sanctions would be.”

Azerbaijan vows not to succumb to pressure. Head of the Department of Political Analysis and Information of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration Elnur Aslanov said: “With such provocative actions Armenia is trying to maintain the status quo instead of establishing peace and stability in the region, further pushing the region to intensified military rhetoric and instability.”