Babacan says Turkey Wants to Normalize Relations with Armenia

NEY YORK–Turkey is willing to normalize its relations with neighboring Armenia, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said late on Thursday.

Turkey wanted to create an atmosphere of dialogue with Armenia, Babacan told a press conference in New York.

"[The] Turkish president, prime minister and foreign minister sent letters to their Armenian counterparts after recent elections in Armenia, and these letters aimed to open a new door of dialogue with the new (Armenian) administration," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolian News Agency.

As a signal of possible efforts to normalize relations between the two countries, Turkish and Armenian officials held a series of secret meetings in the capital of Switzerland on July 8. According to Babacan, these meetings were part of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian’s proposal for "a fresh start" with the goal of normalizing relations with Turkey and opening the border.

Sarkisian also invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to watch a football match between the two country’s national teams on September 6 to mark "a new symbolic start in the two countries’ relations". Turkey has been evaluating this invitation but has not yet given a definite answer.

Although Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenia when it declared its independence in 1991, there has been no diplomatic relations between two countries since 1993, as Turkey supported its junior Ally Azerbaijan in a war against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh by blockading the country. Turkey places preconditions for the normalization of relations, demanding that it abandon support for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s right to self-determination and end its campaign for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

The foreign minister said that Turkey’s aim was to have zero problems with its neighbors. "Naturally, we are also expecting some concrete steps from the other party," he said.

Babacan said he believed that Turkey’s problems could be solved through dialogue, and underlined the importance of setting up a highly controversial joint committee of historians to deal with the Genocide, which Turkey continues to deny. In 2005, Turkey officially proposed to the Armenian government the establishment of a joint historical commission composed of to "study" the Genocide.

Official Yerevan has said that Armenia is not against establishing an intergovernmental commission to discuss issues of concern to both countries, but agreeing to a commission that will cast doubt on the veracity of historical facts, such as the Genocide, is out of the question.

But the creation of such a commission would be logical only after the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border between the two countries, according to President Sarkisian’s Press Secreatary, who explained that any commission created before the blockade is dropped could become a tool for dragging out and exploiting the existing problems.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan has also said that Armenia will continue to seek international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, despite its readiness to accept the formation of an Armenian-Turkish commission. "The genocide issue remains on our agenda," the Armenian Foreign Minister said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, ARF Supreme Council of Armenia Representative Armen Rustamian remarked that if there is a need to create a commission, then it must be an intergovernmental commission, as a commission of historians can contribute nothing to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Earlier this month, the ARF Bureau announced that the "the fact of the Armenian genocide is not a subject of discussion, and no high-ranking official representing Armenia may have a different approach."

"The universal recognition of the genocide is vital for the existence, security and future of our people and statehood," said the announcement issued by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation after its first plenary session, which ended Tuesday.

Babacan was in New York City Thursday to lobby for Turkey’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

Turkey will work hard till the last minute to secure a non-permanent seat at the Security Council, Babacan said at the conference, adding there was a lot of hope for Turkey to attain a non-permanent seat at the Council.

"However, it is important to work hard till the last minute to secure a non-permanent seat," Babacan said.

"It is likely that the election for the non-permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council would take place in October 2008. We would attend the U.N. General Assembly meetings in September with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Both President Gul and I would have many bilateral talks. We would continue lobbying for Turkey’s non-permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council," Babacan said.

The U.N. Security Council is composed of five permanent members–China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, and ten non-permanent members. Turkey competes with Austria and Iceland for the term of 2009-2010.

Ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms and are not eligible for immediate re-election. Turkey held a seat in the Security Council in 1951-52, 1954-55 and 1961.

Turkey would need the votes of 128 countries out of a total of 192 countries in order to be elected as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Babacan also said he saw the appointment of Alexander Downer, Australia’s former foreign minister as the new U.N. special representative for Cyprus, as an important signal that the organization would more closely and seriously deal with the Cyprus problem.

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