YEREVAN: Arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan have said they will exchange prisoners of war and work towards normalising relations, a breakthrough that has been hailed internationally.

The Caucasus neighbours have long fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan reclaimed after a lightning offensive against Armenian separatists in September.

Peace talks — mediated separately by the European Union, the United States and Russia — had seen little progress but both countries still say a peace agreement could be signed by the end of this year.

The two sides agreed in a joint statement late on Thursday to seize “a historical chance to achieve a long-awaited peace in the region”.

US, Turkiye, Russia and EU welcome breakthrough

“The two countries reconfirm their intention to normalise relations and to reach the peace treaty,” the statement said.

Baku will free 32 Armenian prisoners of war, while Yerevan will release two Azerbaijani servicemen, according to the statement.

They also agreed to continue discussions on “more confidence building measures, effective in the near future”.

‘Major breakthrough’

Turkiye’s foreign ministry said it “welcomes” Thursday’s breakthrough, and supports the work by the Caucasus neighbours on “adopting additional confidence-building steps”.

“We hope that a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia is signed as soon as possible,” the Turkish ministry said.

EU Council President Charles Michel praised the statement, calling it a “key step” and a “major breakthrough in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations.” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also hailed “an important confidence building measure as the sides work to finalise a peace agreement and normalise relations.”

Armenia’s foreign ministry said Yerevan had “responded positively” to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s offer to organise a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Washington.

While, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that “Moscow welcomed with satisfaction the Joint Statement of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia confirming the mutual intention to normalise relations and conclude a peace treaty between the two countries.”

COP29

As a sign of good faith, Armenia said it was withdrawing its bid to host UN-led climate talks next year, paving the way for Azerbaijan’s candidacy.

The annual negotiations on fighting climate change, known as COPs, rotate among regions and were due to be hosted by an Eastern European country in 2024 after this year’s COP28 in Dubai.

“Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan do hope that the other countries within the Eastern European Group will also support Azerbaijan’s bid to host,” the statement read.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2023

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