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Azerbaijan may be in line to host next year’s United Nations climate talks, after resolving a spat with neighboring Armenia, potentially putting another oil-producing nation in charge of setting the climate agenda.  

The leaders of the two countries held talks on Thursday, agreeing that Azerbaijan will release 32 Armenian servicemen captured after the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Armenia will release two Azerbaijani servicemen in return, state news agency Azartac reported. The European Union welcomed the move, saying “there is a historic chance to achieve peace in the region,” according to a spokesman for the EU Presidency.

As part of the talks, Armenia said it will drop its rival bid to host COP29 and instead support Azerbaijan for the two-week event in Baku. 

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Azerbaijan, which pumps over half a million barrels a day of oil, is a part of the OPEC+ coalition of producers. This year’s COP28 is being held in another member of the group, the United Arab Emirates, whose climate-fighting credibility has been questioned by environmentalists.

The issue of who will host COP29 had reached a stalemate because of the war in Ukraine. The next summit is supposed to be hosted by an Eastern European country, under the rules of the rotating presidency defined by the UN’s 198-member climate change secretariat. All countries in the region need to agree on the host.

However, Russia said it would block any bid by a European Union country that supported Ukraine, leaving just a handful of nations to choose from, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Serbia and Montenegro. A decision is expected to be made at COP28.

“We are so happy that the countries from the East European bloc are now stepping up because everyone is asking the question: what’s going to happen next year?” UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri said in an interview. “For us it makes it easier to know with who we’re going to be working hand-in-hand.”

--With assistance from John Ainger.

(Updates with EU comment in the second paragraph, background in the fourth.)

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