US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement Thursday in which they "condemn in the strongest terms the recent escalation of violence along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone... call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces... [and] call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations." The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established the Minsk Group in 1992 to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1992-94), in which ethnic Armenians carved out a de facto independent Republic of Artsakh inside the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Since 1997, France, the US, and Russia have served as the Minsk Group's permanent co-chairs. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkey's parliament Thursday, "Given that the USA, Russia, and France have neglected this problem for nearly 30 years, it is unacceptable that they are involved in a search for a ceasefire." Erdogan added that only an Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh (i.e. Azerbaijan restoring its control over the area) will achieve a lasting ceasefire. Ankara is Azerbaijan's closest ally and, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has transported about 900 anti-Assad Syrian rebels to Azerbaijan. While Turkey denies the report, Macron said Thursday, "We have information that indicates with certainty that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have transited through Gaziantep to reach the theatre of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a very serious new fact, which changes the situation." He additionally accused Azerbaijan of initiating the now five-day-old conflict without any apparent justification.
Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel Thursday over Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan stated, "For us, Israel's supply of ultra-modern weapons to Azerbaijan is unacceptable, especially now, in the conditions of Azerbaijan's aggression with the support of Turkey." According to a March 2020 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 60 percent of Azerbaijan's arms imports between 2015 and 2019 came from Israel and 31 percent from Russia. Israeli military exports to Azerbaijan include drones, loitering munitions, anti-tank missiles, and a surface-to-air missile system
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri confirmed Thursday that Lebanon and Israel have agreed on a framework for indirect talks to settle a longstanding dispute over maritime boundaries, which is a barrier to exploring and developing new Mediterranean gas fields. Lebanon is especially eager to find a new source of revenue as a financial crisis caused its currency to lose 80 percent of its value vis-à-vis the US dollar in the year leading up to the August 4 Beirut Port explosion. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that arranging the framework for indirect talks took "nearly three years of intense diplomatic engagement by Ambassador David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary David Schenker." Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told journalists Thursday that both parties had asked the United States to participate as a mediator and facilitator on the maritime discussions and that he will represent the United States in the first round of talks to occur around October 12 at UN Headquarters in Naqoura, Lebanon.
Lebanon Thursday requested Interpol issue international arrest warrants for the owner and captain of the MV Rhosus, the Moldovan-flagged cargo ship carrying the ammonium nitrate responsible for the August 4 explosion that killed 193, wounded about 6,500, and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. The owner, Igor Grechushkin, is a Russian citizen residing in Cyprus while the captain, Boris Prokoshev, is also a Russian citizen. Lebanese authorities impounded the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate from the MV Rhosus in 2014 after finding it unseaworthy and the owner subsequently abandoning the vessel.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune Thursday, becoming the first Secretary of Defense to visit the country since Donald Rumsfeld in 2006. Their discussions focused on Algeria playing a larger role in stabilizing Libya and Mali assuming a referendum in two months on a constitutional amendment permitting peacekeeping operations passes.
President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's Saudi-backed government and the UAE-supported, separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) successfully completed a prisoner swap Thursday. The STC traded 28 government soldiers for 178 of its fighters in a deal mediated by tribal leaders. Although Hadi's government and the STC are officially allies in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthis, they fought each other intermittently after the STC seized Aden, the Hadi government's interim capital, in August 2019. Representatives from Hadi's government and the STC are currently engaged in Saudi-sponsored reconciliation talks in Riyadh.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum