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World News

Caught off guard, France says ready to play role in Nagorno-Karabakh solution

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he speaks during The Paris Peace Forum at The Elysee Palace in Paris, France November 12, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - France on Thursday said it was ready to help build a lasting and balanced solution for all sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after a Russia-brokered ceasefire deal appeared to catch Paris by surprise.

The arrival on Tuesday of the peacekeepers to oversee the ceasefire between Azeri troops and ethnic Armenian forces in the enclave extends Russia’s military footprint among the former Soviet republics it views as its strategic back yard.

Moscow co-chairs an international group overseeing the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Washington and Paris, but they were not involved in the deal signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to end six weeks of fighting over the enclave.

France’s population includes between 400,000 to 600,000 people of Armenian origin and President Emmanuel Macron has been careful not to back one side or the other in the conflict. However, he has increasingly come under fire from opponents at home, who argue that he did not do enough to help Yerevan.

In a statement on Thursday, Macron’s office said he had sought to reassure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

“The President expressed his satisfaction with the end of the fighting, recalled his friendship for Armenia and its people as well as his readiness to build a fair, lasting and acceptable political solution for all parties in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the statement said.

Macron had also convened a meeting of aid agencies and key members of the diaspora to assess Armenia’s humanitarian needs.

However, the statement appeared to stop short of comments earlier this week in which the presidency had been cautious about the Russian-brokered deal and said any lasting agreement needed to take into consideration the interests of Armenia.

France and the United States are expected to send diplomats to Moscow soon to discuss the conflict.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown

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