Gul Briefs Bush on Caucasus Pact Ahead of Yerevan Soccer Visit

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, in a phone conversation Tuesday, briefed US President George Bush about the current situation in the Caucasus and Turkey’s proposal to create a "Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.”

Gul and Bush also spoke about the importance for full-compliance with a six-point cease-fire agreement signed between Georgia and Russia.

Turkish officials and media said over the weekend that Gul has accepted his Armenian counterpart’s invitation to pay a visit to Armenia that could improve the historically strained relations between the two nations and ease Armenia’s inclusion in the regional stability platform.

Citing diplomatic sources in Ankara, the Turkish newspaper “Vatan” reported on Saturday that Gul has decided to arrive in Yerevan to watch the September 6 world cup qualifying match between Armenia’s and Turkey’s national soccer teams. The paper said the decision was made upon the recommendation of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Saturday that he would like Armenia to be part of the regional alliance despite the fact that it has no diplomatic relations with Turkey.

“Why is Armenia included in this, why is Georgia included in this? Because we chose [them] for inclusion [in the platform] on a geographic basis. We have to succeed in this so that the region will become a region of welfare and ease," he said, according to Anatolia.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, the Turkish officials will also explore the Armenian government’s reaction to Ankara’s proposal to form a regional cooperation framework that would bring together Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkish leaders have already discussed the proposed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform with their Russian, Georgian and Azerbaijani counterparts.

Although Gul did not confirm reports that he would travel to Armenia, Erdogan indicated that the trip will take place. "I hope it will be good," Erdogan said, according to the Anatolia news agency. “Our foreign minister will accompany [Gul] and a meeting will take place there,” he said.

Babacan announced on Sunday that he is sending a diplomatic delegation to Yerevan to discuss with Armenian officials practical modalities of what would be the first-ever visit to Armenia by a Turkish head of state. "A delegation from my ministry will travel to Armenia in the course of the coming week to discuss the form of a possible visit by the head of state," Babacan told a news conference in Istanbul.

A diplomatic source told RFE/RL on Monday that the Turkish delegation will be headed by Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Unal Cevikoz and will arrive in Yerevan on Tuesday morning. The source said the delegation could comprise Turkish security officials planning to assess security measures that would be taken by the Armenian authorities in the event of Gul’s arrival.

The Erdogan government offered to embark on a “dialogue” with Yerevan shortly after Serzh Sarkisian was sworn in as Armenia’s new president in early April. Sarkisian responded positively to the offer before extending the surprise invitation to his Turkish counterpart in June. The move was followed by confidential Turkish-Armenian negotiations in Switzerland on the possibility of normalizing bilateral ties.

In an interview with the Turkish daily “Radikal” last week, Sarkisian said the two governmen’s “have reached the decision-making phase” in their dialogue. “Those will not be easy decisions,” he said. “Those decisions will not be approved by the entire publics in Armenia and Turkey. But I am sure the majority of the publics will support positive decisions.” The Armenian leader did not elaborate.

Turkey has until now made the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of its border with Armenia conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. It has also demanded an end to Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide. Whether Ankara is now ready to drop these preconditions remains unclear.

“The Turkish Daily News” on Monday quoted an unnamed Turkish official as saying that Gul’s visit to Yerevan would not signify any changes in Turkey’s long-standing policy toward Armenia. “This visit will have no impact on our policies,’ the official said.

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