Turkey’s Gul Accepts Armenian Soccer Invitation

ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Turkish President Abdullah Gul accepted on Saturday his Armenian counterpart’s invitation to travel to the Armenian capital and watch with him the first-ever game between Armenia’s and Turkey’s national football teams scheduled for September 6.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the visit would contribute to the relations between two neighbor countries.

According to Vatan daily, Armenia has not yet been informed officially regarding the decision. The report added that an official announcement is expected within the next week by Gul.

Gul’s decision follows reports by the Turkish daily “Zaman” on Thursday that the Turkish president’s security detail was already preparing for his possible trip and planning to send a “forward unit” of 15 bodyguards to Yerevan. It said they would discuss with their Armenian colleagues security measures in and around the city’s Hrazdan stadium where the qualifying match for the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa will be played.

A team of Turkish security officials was reportedly set to travel to Yerevan this weekend to discuss security measures that would be put in place in the event of President Abdullah Gul’s historic visit to Armenia.

According to another leading Turkish newspaper, “Hurriyet,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara is trying to arrange the security team’s visit and is going to contact the Armenian government for that purpose. The paper said the Turks will either approach the Armenian embassy in Georgia or Armenia’s permanent representative at the Istanbul headquarters of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Turkish daily “Radikal” made public on Thursday, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian expressed hope that his Turkish counterpart would accept his invitation.

Sarkisian also stressed the importance of the visit, saying it would be the first-ever trip to Armenia by a Turkish president.

“If I did not believe in the visit’s importance, I would not invite Mr. Gul in the first place,” he said. “We are neighbors. We went through difficult times in our history. But Armenia is prepared for a development of our relations and expects the same from Turkey.”

The invitation extended to Gul in June underscored a thaw in relations between the two estranged neighbors that followed Sarkisian’s victory in Armenia’s February 19 presidential election. The new Armenian president responded positively to Ankara’s offers of a “dialogue” on problems hampering the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties. Senior diplomats from the two countries held confidential talks in Switzerland in early July.

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