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Sen. Cardin upping pressure on Blinken over Baku

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin is upping pressure on Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a new letter urging that the Secretary get tougher on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev over Baku’s “brazen campaign of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh,” POLITICO reports.

The letter sent Wednesday marks the first time Cardin, known for human rights advocacy, is publicly confronting Blinken since he took over the gavel from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in September. The Maryland Democrat will not seek reelection at the end of his third term in 2024 and may be in a unique position to criticize the Biden administration.

The new letter comes amid diplomatic friction between Washington and Baku after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien criticized Azerbaijan’s actions in the Karabakh region during congressional testimony this month.

In a Monday call with Aliyev, Blinken agreed to lift a ban on senior Azerbaijani officials visiting the United States. But Aliyev also warned Blinken in that conversation that U.S. diplomatic support for Armenia is risking the U.S.-Azerbaijani relationship.

Cardin said it’s Aliyev who should be on the backfoot after his seizure last month of the largely ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Cardin made clear he wanted repercussions since Baku’s assault “reportedly involved heinous atrocities,” while killing and wounding Armenian civilians, and driving 100,000 Armenians from their homes — all in breach of a November 2020 ceasefire.

Cardin voiced fears Nagorno-Karabakh may erupt again, echoing warnings from civil society leaders.

National Endowment for Democracy CEO Damon ilson argued Cardin’s letter is not a clash with Blinken, but leverage for him to address those concerns. Not only are there still Azerbaijani troops on Armenian territory but Baku is, internally, cracking down on its critics.

“That’s an important factor when we want to see Azerbaijan not overplay its hand and encroach on Armenian sovereignty and stand down,” Wilson said of Cardin’s letter. “Those are things that Baku has to hear directly from Washington on.”

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