A top senator on Tuesday urged the United States to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan's leader, accusing him of starting a campaign of "genocide" against an ethnic Armenian enclave, charges rejected by Baku.
Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of spurring a humanitarian crisis by closing Armenia's only road link into Nagorno-Karabakh, although the enclave's separatist authorities said Tuesday that a Russian aid convoy was able to arrive.
Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is close to the Armenian diaspora, welcomed the three rounds of US-led peace talks between the countries but also called for action against Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
"The Aliyev government in Azerbaijan is carrying out a campaign of heinous atrocities that bear the hallmarks of genocide against the Armenians in Artsakh," Menendez said, using the Armenian name for the rebel government's self-styled republic.
"We need to call out those individuals perpetrating this campaign of ethnic cleansing," Menendez said on the Senate floor.
"We need to target them -- including President Aliyev -- with sanctions. We need to be cutting off their access to the wealth and oil money they have stashed away at financial institutions around the world, to their yachts and mansions across Europe."
He pointed to comments by a former International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, who accused Azerbaijan of waging the "invisible genocide weapon" of starvation by depriving food to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan denies blocking aid. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the State Department was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh but had no one on the ground to offer firsthand accounts.
"We do not have any confirmed cases of death due to famine or malnutrition," the official said.
Another US official rejected suggestions of "international complicity" in the situation, saying, "We're doing everything we can to focus on how practically to get food assistance in."
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the last in 2020 when Azerbaijan, allied with Turkey, took back territory controlled by Armenia for decades.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has warned of a return to all-out conflict and accused Russia, which stationed peacekeepers after 2020, of being either "unable or unwilling" to control the Lachin corridor into Nagorno-Karabakh.
The first US official insisted that the United States, which is carrying out military exercises with Armenia that have drawn Kremlin concern, is "not trying to displace Russia."
"This is not about Russia," he said. "This is about a lasting and durable peace in the region."