Armenia, Turkey ‘In Secret Talks’

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia and Turkey have held confidential negotiations to discuss a new opening for the normalization of their strained relations, a leading Turkish newspaper reported on Friday.

A senior US official, meanwhile, expressed hope that Turkish President Abdullah Gul will accept his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian’s invitation to arrive in Yerevan on September 6 for a World Cup qualifier match between the two countries’ national football teams.

The daily "Hurriyet" said senior diplomats from the two countries met in the Swiss capital Berne on July 8 and held talks for several days. It quoted the unnamed head of
the Turkish delegation in the talks as saying that "the meeting took place in a positive atmosphere." No details were reported.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan did not deny the report, saying the two countries have contacts "from time to time" and stressing that Ankara favors dialogue with its northeastern neighbor. "We have contacts with Armenian colleagues from time to time," Babacan told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. "It is important to discuss how relations between the two countries can be normalized through dialogue."

The Armenian Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment on Friday.

According to "Hurriyet," the reported talks were made possible by Sarkisian’s recent overtures to Ankara, including the invitation extended to Gul. In an article published by "The Wall Street Journal" on July 9, Sarkisian said Armenia is ready to engage in "a new phase of dialogue with the government and people of Turkey."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told the private NTV television on Wednesday that Gul has not yet decided whether to accept the extraordinary invitation. "Such a participation would depend on the developmen’s ahead of the match," he said.

Babacan also said that the onus is on the Armenian side to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations. "Armenia’should decide: Should the problems continue or should we open a new chapter in relations?" he said, according to "The Turkish Daily News."

Gul was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Sarkisian on his victory in Armenia’s recent presidential election. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Babacan sent similar messages to their newly appointed Armenian counterparts in April. They both said Ankara wants to start "dialogue" with Yerevan to address problems hampering the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza described these developmen’s as "quite encouraging" and urged both sides to step up the search for a rapprochement. "I think they have a real chance to do so," he said.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, Sarkisian said that a hypothetical Turkish-Armenian intergovernmental commission, proposed by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, should study “details of the genocide” and other issues of mutual concern to the two countries.

"It is odd to us that some people have decided to criticize President Sarkisian for taking those courageous steps when in fact some of those same people used to propose those very same steps," Bryza said, in an apparent reference to Ter-Petrosian, who is known for his otherwise conciliatory line on Turkish-Armenian relations.

Bryza also made clear that the United States has no plans to offer to act as a mediator in a Turkish-Armenian dialogue. "The parties need to talk to themselves and figure out what they want," he said. "If they ask us to do that, we would consider it. But we are not mediators of Armenia’s relations with Turkey."

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