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TURKEY tr-diplomacy

Turkey, Armenia one step closer to open border

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM | DÖNDÜ SARIIŞIK

Turkey and Armenia declared their intention to restore diplomatic relations in a joint statement issued Monday night. Now both governments, targeted by nationalists, have six weeks to convince the public at home prior to the signing of two official agreements

Ending nearly a century-old animosity, Turkey and Armenia declared late Monday that they have agreed to restore diplomatic ties and open their sealed border.

Operating under Swiss mediation, the two neighboring countries announced their intension to sign two protocols, one to establish diplomatic relations and the other to develop bilateral ties, within six weeks.

The historic move would ensure Armenian President Serge Sarkisian’s visit to Turkey in October for the Turkey-Armenia World Cup qualifying match.

“The two protocols provide a framework for the normalization of bilateral relations within a reasonable timeframe. The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective parliaments for ratification by each side. Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures,” read the joint statement.

The protocols will enter into force only after a ratification process. According to Turkish constitutional law, the Parliament’s ratification and presidential approval are required. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday that “the protocols will not come into force without the ratification of the Parliament.”

Informing the public about the developments, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the move was in line with the government’s zero-problems-with-neighbors policy. “Our main goal is to surround Turkey with a safe environment that is a source not of crisis but of stability,” he said in an interview with NTV on Tuesday.

[HH] Parallel tracks

Turkey and Armenia agreed to a road map April 22, one day before the traditional U.S. presidential statement on the mass killings of Armenians during World War I. However, due to the strong Azerbaijani reaction, Turkey had to subsequently declare that “the border could be opened only after the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh.”

When asked whether Turkey has changed its policy again and will open the border unconditionally, Davutoğlu said that “Turkey was envisaging parallel tracks and it was impossible to sustain the normalization process without a comprehensive reconciliation in the region.”

The foreign minister did not, however, entirely rule out the possibility of opening the border before an interim solution had been reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turkey tried to alleviate Azerbaijani concerns over the weekend by sending two of its top diplomats to Baku to inform them about the process. “Turkey would never do something to the disadvantage of its Azerbaijani brothers,” Davutoğlu said.

“Nothing is more important than Turkish-Azerbaijani friendship,” the foreign minister added. “We guarantee that the protocols issued yesterday will not harm the national interests of Azerbaijan. It is a basic principle. On the contrary, it will accelerate putting an end to the occupation [of Azerbaijani land].”

Noting that President Abdullah Gül had visited Armenia last year unconditionally, Davutoğlu said it was their right to ask the same thing from the Armenian leader. Sarkisian has urged Turkey to open the border or show a sign of intent to do so if it wants him to come to Turkey to watch the match.

[HH] Lobbying at home and abroad

The six-week period designed for political consultations will be a key lobbying window for Turkish diplomats both at home and abroad. “Acceptance by society is important. Political leaders will express the details to the public within domestic consultations,” Davutoğlu said.

The foreign minister, who met with the different political parties to inform them about foreign-policy issues, is planning to brief opposition leaders on the latest developments as well. “I can start a second informative consultation process when I return to Turkey,” he added. “It is not necessary to hold [bilateral] talks at the same quick pace since we’ve reached an agreement.”

Davutoğlu’s comments hinted that lobbying efforts would be increased in the international arena.

“Over the next six weeks, we will conduct work in this direction with the international community as well,” he said. “In order to make the efforts known, we will hold talks at every level, including with the Minsk Group, which is related to the Azerbaijani-Armenian track.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will bring the issue to the agenda of the U.N. General Assembly.

In the forthcoming talks with world leaders, both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu intend to stress that both the Azerbaijani-Armenian and Turkish-Armenian tracks should improve in parallel with each other since a comprehensive solution is required to address the frozen conflicts in the Caucasus.

“To establish a sustainable and permanent peace is also a responsibility of the international community, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [or OSCE] and the U.N. It necessitates protection of the unity of Azerbaijan,” the Turkish foreign minister said. “We will push both the international community and Yerevan for a solution in the Minsk talks.”

Davutoğlu briefed OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairman and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner about the latest developments and the Turkish vision in a phone conversation Tuesday.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana hailed the agreement between Armenia and Turkey as a “crucial step” toward ending their decades-long dispute. “I welcome yesterday’s agreement between Turkey and Armenia to start internal political consultations... for establishing diplomatic relations,” Solana said in a statement issued Tuesday.

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