France, the United States, and Russia will step up efforts to end the fighting between Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian forces in the South Caucasus by holding talks in Geneva on Thursday, as fears of a regional war grow.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Russian, French and U.S. representatives would also meet in Moscow on Monday to explore ways of persuading the warring parties to negotiate a ceasefire.
"We want everyone to understand that it is in their interest to stop the hostilities without conditions immediately and to start negotiations," he told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament.
Le Drian did not make it clear whether any Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives would attend, but Azerbaijan said that its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would visit Geneva on Thursday.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan would visit Moscow on Monday, but did not give any details. A meeting with Bayramov was ruled out.
The warring parties have so far ignored the ceasefire calls by Paris, Washington, and Moscow, which have been mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for almost three decades, a mountain enclave which, under international law, belongs to Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
The Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders were also at odds with the conditions for stopping the fighting that began on Sept. 27.
More than 360 people were killed, including 320 military personnel and 19 civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh and 28 Azeri civilians. They are the deadliest clashes since the 1991-94 Nagorno-Karabakh war that killed some 30,000 people.
Azerbaijan says that Azerbaijan cities outside the conflict zone have also been attacked. This has taken the fight closer to the territory from which Azeri gas and oil pipelines are transported to Europe, and has prompted the British oil company BP to take a closer look at security at its facilities in Azerbaijan.
"We must be careful that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not become a regional war," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on television.
Iran, which borders both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been talking to the former Soviet republics about the possibility that Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia, could be sucked into the conflict.
CONDITIONS OF CEASEFIRE
France, the United States, and Russia are co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mediating Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey accused the group of neglecting the conflict and argued that it should not be involved in mediation.
Le Drian hit Turkey back, reiterating the accusations – denied by Ankara – that it was involved in the military and that this fueled the "internationalization" of the conflict.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that his country will hold talks with Armenia only after the acute phase of the military conflict has ended and wants Turkey to be involved in mediation.
He also wants Armenia to set a timetable for the withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and the territories surrounding Azerbaijan.
Armenia's truce conditions are Turkey's "discontinuation of its engagement" and "the withdrawal or elimination of mercenaries and terrorists," according to the press service of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In comments to Sky News, Pashinyan said that Turkey and Azerbaijan were pursuing a policy of genocide and "re-establishing the Turkish empire." In the past, both have dismissed such accusations.
Between 1915 and 1923, some 1.5 million Armenians were killed under Ottoman rule. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the empire were killed in clashes with the Ottoman forces during the First World War, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constituted genocide.