Sarkisian Press Conference Discusses Turkey Relations

YEREVAN (ArmRadio)-President Sarkisian sought to reassure Armenia’s on Monday that the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia would be a positive development and a "great success" for Armenia.

In a news conference dedicated to his first 100 days in office, Sarkisian said Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s visit to Yerevan would strengthen positive trends toward normal relations that are evident in the populations of both countries.

"The improvement of ties between Armenia and Turkey is mutually beneficial," Sarkisian said. "I think we should improve our relations."

"The important thing is that in relations between Armenia and Turkey a trend is taking shape for being ready to start a healthy discussion of the existing problems," he said.

Sarkisian said earlier this month he had invited his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to visit Yerevan and watch a football match in September.

"The visit of Gul to Armenia could turn this trend into a stable and positive movement," the President said."The normalization of relations will be mutually beneficial, and I hope that when taking a decision on visiting Yerevan Abdullah Gul will be guided by reason."

At the same time he noted that both sides should continue to make efforts to solve the closed border issue even if some political forces in Armenia and Turkey say they will organize demonstrations against Gul’s visit to Yerevan in September.

Sarkisian said that forces against normal relations exist in both countries but "does it mean that we must not undertake anything for solving the existing problems?" He said both sides should work to normalize relations and expressed hope that the number of people supporting the establishment of diplomatic relations in both countries would be greater than those against it.

The President also spoke about the meeting held earlier this month between Armenian and Turkish diplomats in Geneva, saying that there are no grounds for calling the meeting sensational because diplomats from the two countries have held meetings in the past.

Discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Sarkisian said that his administration is eager to continue negotiations with Azerbaijan based on the Madrid Principles, established in November last year when the foreign ministers of both countries were given a set of basic principles for negotiation by the OSCE Minsk Group.

The Madrid principles call for the conflict’s gradual resolution that would lead to an Armenian withdrawal from virtually all of the liberated districts surrounding Karabakh. The plan would also allow its predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed territory’s status in a future referendum. Official Yerevan has described this peace formula as largely acceptable to the Armenian side.

The basic principles also call for the demilitarization of the conflict zone, the repatriation of Armenian settlers, the return of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons, and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force that neither the United Nations, NATO, nor the OSCE have the resources to manage.

"I’m confident that we can reach a solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through peace talks," Sarkisian said, adding that his impression after talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in June was that the means for a peaceful settlement have not been exhausted yet. "I have the impression that President Aliyev is ready to continue the negotiations."

But the atmosphere has been tense ever since Aliyev, said in early June that Azerbaijan should "be ready to liberate [its] lands in a military way at any time." On June 26 Aliyev announced his intentions to build a military industrial complex that would support a second round war with neighboring Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarkisian dismissed reporters’ commen’s about Azerbaijan’s growing criticism of the OSCE Minsk Group’s activities, saying that the Minsk Group co-chairs have made progress in the settlement process.

Official Baku threatened in early April to review its relations with the OSCE mediating powers after they voted against a March 14 United Nations General Assembly resolution referring to Karabakh as an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. The Azeri drafted resolution was adopted with 39 votes. The United States, Russia and France, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group voted against the resolution, citing its one-sided and unconstructive nature. Most Council of Europe countries also abstained from the vote. Since the resolution, Azerbaijan has been working to undermine the credibility of the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been working to mediate a solution to the Karabakh Conflict since 1997.

Sarkisian also discussed Armenian-Russian relations during the press conference. He said the Armenian-Russian relations have a "very good" future and noted that Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev will pay an official visit to Armenia within the coming months.

Commenting on Medvedev’s visit to Azerbaijan earlier this month, Sarkisian said, "we do not have the right to demand from our allies that they not develop relations with those countries, which we do not have good relations with."

Medvedev and the head of Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, were in Baku in a bid to bring Azerbaijan back into its energy orbit and cement Russia’s hold over Caspian Sea energy. During his visit Medvedev signed a declaration of friendship and strategic partnership with Azerbaijan, which contained an unusually explicit statement of support for Azerbaijan’s stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.

What is most important, he said, is that Russia’s relations with Azerbaijan do not develop at the expense of Armenian-Russian relations.

Turning to US-Armenia relations, president Sarkisian said his administration hopes that relations between the two countries will continue to deepen after a new American president is elected in November.

"We highly underscore our relations with the United States of America," he said. "Since Armenia’s independence the US has been providing great financial and humanitarian assistance to Armenia and we have carried out a number of programs with the United States."

Responding to questions about the possibility of Armenia’s involvement in helping broker a normalization in US-Israeli-Iranian relations, Sarkisian said that such an initiative from Yerevan would be improper, but Armenia would be glad "to make its contribution in the name of peace" with Washington and Tehran’s consent.

He noted that Iran is an important partner for Armenia, historically and geopolitically.

"We have a good partnership [with Iran]; we have a great community in Iran; we have lived side by side for thousands of years have a common history," he said.

Talking about Israel, Sarkisian said the two countries share a common tragedy with the Genocide and the Holocaust. He also added that thousands of Armenia’s currently live in Israel.

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