Aliyev Pulls Out of Istanbul Visit Over Turkey-Armenia Thaw

BAKU (Combined Sources)–Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has refused to attend an international meeting in Istanbul next week, a move that can be seen as a protest against the prospect of the border being opened between Armenia and Turkey, according to a report on Friday, the Azeri Press Agency reported Friday.

According to the Azeri Press Agency Aliyev refused the invitation to attend the second Alliance of Civilizations conference that begins its work in Istanbul on Monday, citing a conflict in his work schedule. The report went on to conjecture that “it is likely that Ankara’s refusal to take a stance on reports regarding the reopening of the borders between Turkey and Armenia may be the main reason” for Aliyev’s shunning of the conference.

The UN-sponsored forum is to be attended by heads of states and other high-ranking representatives of some 30 countries. Several leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will attend the summit co-chaired by Turkey and Spain on April 6-7.

Official Yerevan confirmed on Friday that Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian will also participate in the summit. Citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Yerevan, RFE/RL reported Friday that Nalbandian will likely meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on the sidelines of the gathering.

The speculation surrounding Aliyev’s decision followed a report in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that Turkey and Armenia could soon announce a deal aimed at reopening their border and restoring relations.

Azeri officials had already expressed concerns over the prospect of the border being reopened and some media reports suggested that Baku might even go one step further in halting the sale of natural gas to Turkey.

Azeri officials say that opening the border before the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan would run counter to country’s national interests.

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