Armenian FM to Hold Fresh Talks with Turkish Counterpart in Istanbul

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Official Yerevan confirmed on Friday that Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian will visit Istanbul early next week, giving more credence to reports that Armenia and Turkey are close to normalizing their historically strained relations.

The official purpose of Nalbandian’s trip announced by his press office is to participate in the second Alliance of Civilizations conference that begins its work in Turkey’s largest city on Monday. The UN-sponsored forum is to be attended by heads of states and other high-ranking representatives of some 30 countries.

Diplomatic sources in Yerevan said Nalbandian will likely meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on the sidelines of the gathering. The two men have held a dozen face-to-face meetings since the start of the unprecedented Turkish-Armenian rapprochement about a year ago.

Their fresh talks will come on the heels of Western and Turkish media reports that Ankara and Yerevan are poised to announce an agreement that commits them to gradually establishing full diplomatic relations and reopening their border. According to some Turkish newspapers, the agreement could be signed during or shortly after Nalbandian’s trip to Istanbul.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry would not comment on these reports on Friday. A ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said only that it is “cautiously optimistic” about the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. “Armenia has gone a long way in negotiating with Turkey, and we hope to bring our constructive dialogue to a logical conclusion,” he told RFE/RL.

Incidentally, U.S. President Barack Obama will also be in Turkey on April 6-7. Turkish-Armenian relations are expected to be on the agenda of his talks with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish leaders hope that the prospect of their normalization will discourage Obama from honoring his election campaign pledges to recognizes the 1915 mass killings of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, however, has refused to attend an international meeting in Istanbul, a move that can be seen as a protest against the prospect of the border being opened between Armenia and Turkey, the Turkish Hurriyet daily reported Friday, citing the Azeri Press Agency.

The report said the refusal may also be connected with Aliyev’s work schedule, adding 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.

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.

According to CNN Turk, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said earlier this week that the Turkish Armenian border would not be opened until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was resolved.

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