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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to reopen Nagorno-Karabakh's land link with Armenia, warning that a blockade of the corridor could undermine peace efforts between the two countries.
Blinken spoke by telephone with Aliyev "to urge an immediate reopening of the Lachin Corridor to commercial traffic," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on January 23.
"He underscored that the risk of a humanitarian crisis in the Lachin Corridor undermined prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan," the statement added.
Blinken last week also spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and voiced "deep concern for the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh" due to the blockage of the corridor.
Government-backed Azerbaijani protesters identifying themselves as environmentalists have blocked a section of the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia since December 12 and are demanding that Baku be allowed to inspect "illegal" ore mines in Karabakh. Some activists have also called for the Russian peacekeepers to be replaced with an international force.
The Azerbaijani side insists that the road is open for humanitarian cargo, emergency services, and peacekeepers.
Armenia has called the blockade a gross violation of the Russian-brokered agreement from November 2020 that suspended more than a month of intense fighting in the decades-old Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts.
That cease-fire ushered in a deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the area and joint monitoring of the situation with longtime Azerbaijani ally Turkey.
Close to 7,000 people died on both sides during the 2020 war that ended with Baku's regaining control of a big part of the region and seven adjacent districts that had been under ethnic Armenians' control for three decades.
Earlier on January 23, the European Union said its had agreed to establish a civilian mission to Armenia to help improve security in the border area and ease tensions with neighboring Azerbaijan.
The mission, which was requested by Armenia will "conduct routine patrolling" in border areas to "strengthen the EU's understanding of the situation on the ground," the EU said in a statement, adding that the mission had a two-year mandate.
"The EU will continue to support de-escalation efforts and is committed to work closely with both sides towards the ultimate goal of sustainable peace in the region," EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said.
Armenia welcomed the EU decision, with Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan saying that it "will contribute to peace, stability and security in the region."
"We will readily cooperate with the mission and support its activities," Mirzoyan said on Twitter.
There was no immediate reaction from Azerbaijan.
Earlier in January, Aliyev blasted the EU's plans to again monitor the border area from the Armenian side without Baku's consent. Aliyev said such a move "will not improve security" and will only complicate further EU mediation of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
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