Armenia Reschedules Regional Meeting to Appease Turkey

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Armenia has rescheduled a foreign ministerial meeting of Black Sea countries, apparently as a goodwill gesture to ensure Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan will be among the participants, diplomatic sources have revealed.

Armenian authorities moved the date of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) meeting from the previously announced April 29 to April 16, just days before the day commemorating the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide on April 24.

Turkey is concerned that any US move to acknowledge the Armenian genocide would deal a heavy blow not only to Turkish-US ties but also to ongoing efforts to normalize relations with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has had no formal ties since it closed its border in 1993.

Ankara wants a change in Yerevan’s policy toward the genocide recognition campaign under way around the world before normalizing its ties with Armenia. Other conditions imposed by Turkey are a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan’s interests and formal Armenian recognition of its current borders with Turkey.

Foreign Minister Babacan said in an interview with Today’s Zaman this week that Turkey and Armenia were closer than ever to normalizing relations. Turkish and Armenian diplomats have been holding closed-door meetings on restoration of ties since a landmark visit by President Abdullah G?l to Yerevan in September.

Turkish officials have refrained from discussing whether Babacan will attend the BSEC meeting. Although Ankara has a high opinion of BSEC and wants to revitalize it as an influential regional consultation mechanism, Babacan’s participation in the group’s next meeting in Yerevan will still depend on Armenia’s commitment to the ongoing rapprochement process and on the course of closed-door talks with Armenia, officials say. The same officials also make it clear that Turkey has made no request for the foreign ministerial gathering to be rescheduled.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian traveled to Istanbul to attend the previous BSEC meeting held there. Nalbandian said then that his country wanted to invite Babacan to the next BSEC meeting in Yerevan. It is not clear whether a formal invitation for Babacan has yet arrived.

Before the foreign ministerial gathering, BSEC countries are due to hold ministerial-level working meetings also in Yerevan. The energy ministers of BSEC countries will meet on March 13, while the transportation and agriculture ministers will gather on March 27 and April 10, respectively.

Cabinet ministers may also visit Yerevan before Babacan. Diplomatic sources do not rule out the prospect of ministerial visits to Armenia, underlining the importance Turkey attaches to the BSEC functioning effectively. Turkey has traditionally favored senior-level attendance at BSEC meetings, and sources say Ankara is unlikely to scale down its role in BSEC because of problems with Armenia.

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