The talks are seen as Moscow's attempt to reduce growing Western influence in the Caucasus. AFP

Armenia and Azerbaijan joined talks Monday in Tehran seeking to ease tensions between the arch foes, which soared with Baku's lightning offensive to retake the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

However, the same day as the meeting, Azerbaijan announced the start of joint military drills with its ally Turkey near the border with Armenia just weeks after Baku seized Karabakh from pro-Yerevan separatists.

At the meeting in the Iranian capital -- which also included foreign ministers from Turkey, Russia and Iran -- the envoys noted a push for peace in the Caucasus.

"This meeting... can be the cornerstone of the path towards establishing peace and ending challenges in the South Caucasus with the participation of regional players and neighbours," said Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The talks are seen as Moscow's attempt to reduce growing Western influence in the Caucasus -- a region it has long considered as its backyard.

According to Moscow's original plan, the "3+3 format" was meant to also include Georgia. But Tbilisi, which aspires to join the EU and NATO, has rejected the proposal.

Since Moscow brokered a 2020 ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the European Union and United States have stepped up their own efforts to mediate a peace agreement between the two sides.

Russia, the traditional power-broker in the region, has seen its role diminished since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Ahead of the talks, Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Monday it had begun joint drills with its ally Turkey near the border with Armenia -- weeks after Baku seized the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region from pro-Yerevan separatists.

Azerbaijan last month took control of the enclave in a 24-hour military operation that ended decades of Armenian separatist rule.

The ministry said "up to 3,000" troops would take part in the tactical drills held in the capital Baku, the Nakhichevan exclave between Iran and Armenia, as well as territories retaken from Armenian separatists.

The exercises -- dubbed "Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 2023" -- involve dozens of artillery weapons and aviation.

Baku said they were aimed at "ensuring combat interoperability" between the allies.

Tensions are running high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a month after Baku's lightning offensive.

Yerevan fears that energy-rich Baku may seek to press its advantage -- with the help of Ankara -- to forcibly connect its Nakhichevan exclave with Azerbaijan proper by capturing lands in southern Armenia, along the Iranian border.

Iran opposes the idea of a so-called Zangezur corridor, as it would create a direct land link between Azerbaijan and Tehran's historic rival Turkey.

Armenia said it is ready to reopen transport communications between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan via its territory under condition that its sovereignty over the area is not questioned.

Baku has denied having any territorial claims over Armenia.

Karabakh, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan and for decades home to a majority Armenian population, was at the centre of two wars between Yerevan and Baku -- in 2020 and in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After a months-long blockade of the region, Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive against Armenian separatist forces on September 19, 2023.

After less than a day of fighting, separatist authorities agreed to lay down arms and reintegrate with Azerbaijan.

Almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population -- some 100,000 people -- fled for Armenia after the offensive, sparking a refugee crisis.

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