House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a delegation of lawmakers visited Armenia in the midst of fresh clashes with neighboring Azerbaijan that killed more than 200 troops, according to U.S. officials.
While speaking in Yerevan, Armenia, Pelosi condemned the “illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory” that triggered border fighting. “We strongly condemn those attacks,” she said beside Armenian parliamentary speaker Alen Simonyan.
The two countries agreed to a ceasefire last week that has lasted three days so far. But the fighting, Pelosi claimed, “was initiated by the Azeris and there has to be recognition of that.”
Pelosi is the highest-ranking American official to visit Armenia in several decades and the first to do so since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan was also a Soviet republic before the bloc’s dissolution.
The U.S. Embassy, which confirmed Pelosi’s visit on Saturday, said her trip include a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. She was joined by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), according to Embassy officials.
Other than visiting Pashinyan, Pelosi will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Armenian Genocide Memorial and she will deliver a speech at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, the Embassy said.
A cease-fire took effect on Wednesday evening following two days of heavy fighting that marked the largest outbreak of hostilities in nearly two years.
The two ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace agreement. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
Following Pelosi’s remarks on Sunday, Azeri officials sharply criticized the speaker.
“The unsubstantiated and unfair accusations levelled by Pelosi against Azerbaijan are unacceptable,” the Azeri foreign ministry said in a statement, as reported by Reuters. “This is a serious blow to the efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the ministry added while asserting Pelosi’s comments are “Armenian propaganda.”
Meanwhile, Russia considers Armenia—which recently requested support from Moscow—as a regional ally. The Kremlin has also sought friendly relations with Azerbaijan in recent years.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that Russia is able to mediate in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, saying Moscow has enough resources to provide assistance despite the conflict raging in Ukraine.
“Under the influence of Russia, this conflict was localized. I hope this continues to be the case,” Putin told reporters, reported Reuters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.