Erdogan Visits Azerbaijan to Boost Ties

BAKU (Combined Sources)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his two day official visit to Azerbaijan on Wednesday–in an effort to boost already close ties and trade links.

Marking his first official visit to the country as Prime Minister–Erdogan met with Azeri president Ilham Aliyev to discuss issues including cooperation in the oil-and-gas industry and steps toward a possible settlement of the Karabagh conflict.

Thanking the Prime Minister for Turkey’s position and support on the Karabagh conflict–Aliyev expressed confidence that the visit will serve as an important catalyst for further development of the political–economic–and cultural relationship between the two countries.

Recalling Heydar Aliyev’s "One nation–two states," slogan–Erdogan noted–"Turkey has always been side by side with Azerbaijan–and this policy will be continued in the future." He said that in addition to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines–which "were of exceptional significance for Azerbaijan and Turkey," the countries would also develop their trade cooperation.

On the issue of the Russian military base transfer from Georgia to Armenia–Erdogan clarified that Turkey could only serve as a "passive onlooker" in the situation–"without trying to sway Russia’s decision."

On May 30–Russia and Georgia agreed that Russia’s two bases pull out by 2008. The withdrawal of military hardware from the Akhalkalak base near the Georgian-Armenian border is scheduled for 2006 and the facility’s closure is due the following year. The Batumi base–on the Black Sea coast–will close in 2008.

Reports have said the Turkish leader is also expected to urge Azerbaijan to pursue democratic reforms ahead of the country’s November elections.

Earlier this week in an interview with CNN-Turk television–Aliyev said he ruled out the possibility of a popular uprising in Azerbaijan similar to those that occurred in Georgia–Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Aliyev–however–pledged that the November vote would be "bright–democratic and transparent."

Erdogan is expected to address Azeri parliamentarians and meet with Turkish and Azeri business people.

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