Turkey Readies for Dialogue with Armenia over Caucasus Bloc

ANKARA (Turkish Daily News)–Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Armenian officials in the coming week as part of an effort to accelerate moves toward the establishment of a Caucasian regional bloc, the Hurriyet reported on Wednesday, citing commen’s by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Babacan will speak to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, this week, “after which the format of the contacts with Armenia” will be determined, Erdogan said before departing for Baku to hold talks with Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, over his country’s participation in the Turkish-sponsored bloc.

Diplomatic sources told the Turkish Daily News that official contacts with Yerevan on the matter could be carried out by ?nal ?evik?z, the deputy undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. ?evik?z was among the Turkish diplomats who met with Armenian officials in a series of secret meetings in the capital of Switzerland on July 8.

“We may not have diplomatic ties but Turkey recognizes Armenia,” said a Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the absence of Yerevan in the Turkey-sponsored Caucasus Union would be felt because it is Armenia that has been most affected by the latest conflict in the region.

In a conciliatory message to Armenia, President Abdullah G?l said over the weekend that Turkey is “no enemy” to any country in the region, stressing that the Georgia-Russia conflict has shown the need for “early measures to resolve frozen problems” in the Caucasus.

But till now Ankara has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Yerevan. Since the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991 the two neighbors have not had normal relations. In 1993 Turkey also imposed an illegal blockade on Armenia in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, then at war with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Diplomats from Turkey and Armenia met secretly in Switzerland in July in a fresh effort to normalize ties, following three rounds of talks in 2005 and 2006. But no progress has been publicly made known.

Erdogan traveled to Moscow and Tbilisi last week to discuss the Caucasus proposal. On his visit to Baku, he said he and Aliyev would discuss Ankara’s proposal to establish a regional platform for stability and cooperation in the Caucasus that would include Georgia, Russia and Armenia.

“We have vital interests in securing durable peace and stability in the region,” he told reporters.

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