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Blinken offers US support to Armenia for peace talks with Azerbaijan

Blinken hosts Armenia and Azerbaijan ministers

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered U.S. support in helping Armenia toward having peace discussions with Azerbaijan, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

Blinken and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had a phone call on Monday, which was about two weeks after Azerbaijani troops and ethnic Armenians exchanged gunfire in Azerbaijan's contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, killing at least five people.

Blinken "reiterated U.S. support for direct talks and diplomacy to support a lasting and sustainable peace in the South Caucasus and stressed that there is no military solution," the State Department said in a statement.

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Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Pashinyan have met several times as part of attempts to resolve the conflict, but periodic violence has hurt peace talks.

Nagorno-Karabakh was the focal point of two wars that have pitted Armenia against Azerbaijan in the more than 30 years since both ex-Soviet states have achieved independence. Russia and Armenia are officially allies through a mutual self-defence pact, but Moscow also seeks to maintain good relations with Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but populated mostly by ethnic Armenians.

In December, Azerbaijanis claiming to be environmental activists started a blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia says the blockade has led to food and medicine shortages, and that the protesters are government-backed agitators. Azerbaijan denies those claims and says the protesters are campaigning against illegal Armenian mining.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; editing by Grant McCool)