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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenia as “illegal” during a Sunday press conference alongside Armenian officials.
Pelosi led a Congressional delegation to the region this weekend, days after roughly 200 troops were killed in clashes between the two countries. The conflict centers around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is ethnically Armenian but legally belongs to Azerbaijan, a situation that has resulted in decades of violence.
Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to a ceasefire days before Pelosi’s arrival.
“Our meeting, again, had a particular importance to us because of the focus on security following the illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on the Armenian territory,” Pelosi said Sunday.
“We strongly condemn those attacks, we in our delegation on behalf of Congress, which threatens prospects for a much-needed peace agreement,” she added, saying the conflict “was initiated by the Azeris, and there has to be recognition of that.”
Pelosi’s delegation includes Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Frank Pallone Jr. ,D-NJ. Their trip was planned prior to the attacks. Speier and Eshoo are both Armenian American.
Russian officials attempted to negotiate a ceasefire between the two countries early last week, but the agreement was broken in less than a day.
Russia sought to take the lead in peacekeeping efforts due to the proximity of the conflict to its borders.
“It is difficult to overestimate the role of the Russian Federation, the role of Putin personally,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week, according to Reuters. “The president naturally is making every effort to help de-escalate tensions at the border.”
Pelosi’ statement in Armenia is likely to be taken as a rebuke of Russia’s ongoing efforts.
The Azeri government hit back at Pelosi’s condemnation on Sunday, brushing it off as “Armenian propaganda.”
“The unsubstantiated and unfair accusations levelled by Pelosi against Azerbaijan are unacceptable,” the Azeri foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“This is a serious blow to the efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the statement continued.