Turkey Proposes Armenian Azeri Peace Talks

ANKARA (combined sources)–At the conference of the Turkish Economic and Social Foundation on Saturday February 17 the Armenian Foreign Ministry gave the cold shoulder to a proposal by Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem to hold a meeting with Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

"I think that a meeting of officials from Armenia and Azerbaijan with Turkey would be a serious contribution to a solution," Cem said–without indicating whether Turkey sought to mediate between the former Soviet states.

The minister’s remarks appear to be the first steps in the Turkish plan to normalize ties with Armenia in order to halt charges of genocide against them.

The proposal appeared to be a move by Turkey to approach Armenia–but it received a cool response by a senior Armenian diplomat participating in the conference.

Samuel Mkrtchian of Armenia’s Foreign Ministry balked at the proposal. "For the time being–I don’t see a chance for this. Maybe the first step should be taken in bilateral relations–and then we can look into the possibility of such a meeting," said Mkrtchian–who was present at the meeting.

"We are desperately in need of establishing diplomatic ties with Turkey–because it is to the well-being of the whole region. Turkey’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh has always been one-sided–in favor of Azerbaijan–and before holding trilateral talks we should first establish diplomatic ties," he said.

Mkrtchian also pointed out that a trilateral platform will exclude the so-called Minsk group–appointed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to oversee Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks.

The mere presence of Mkrtchian at the conference of the Turkish Economic and Social Foundation was seen as a sign of warming in ties between the two neighbors.

Yigit Alpogan–who is in charge of the Caucasus at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry–highlighted the significance of such a meeting. "This proposal is something very remarkable in view that Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations,” Alpogan said.

Carey Cavanaugh–the US State Department’s negotiator for the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute–welcomed the possibility of a three-way meeting and of improved relations between Turkey and Armenia.

”The lack of relationship between Turkey and Armenia is not natural,” the US diplomat said. Cavanaugh noted that there had been progress in the peace process–sponsored by the Minsk group which includes the United States–France and Russia. The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents met in Paris last month to discuss prospects of a peace deal.

Azeri President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian met in Paris in January in the latest bid to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Cem said that there are great opportunities for the Caucasian peoples in the beginning of the 21st century. Noting that the Caucasus provides great economic–political and strategic opportunities–Cem said that the two important aims of Turkey in the beginning of 21st century is to become a full member of EU and be a determining country in Eurasia.

He added that the Caucasus has to use its sources and opportunities–and that requires peace–stability and security. Cem indicated that the Caucasus Stability Pact has been submitted to the concerned countries as a proposal.

In a related development–a senior government source in Yerevan confirmed that Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heydar Aliyev–are likely to meet again in Paris early next month to continue their direct talks on a Karabakh peace deal. The source–speaking on the condition of anonymity–said that the idea to hold another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit was suggested by French President Jacques Chirac during Kocharian’s state visit to France last week. The most recent Kocharian-Aliyev meeting–held in Paris last month–was also arranged by the French leader.

Aliyev’s decision to fly to Paris in the wake of France’s official recognition of the Armenian genocide was criticized by Ankara.

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