Erdogan Seeks Russian Backing For Role in Karabakh Talks

RUSSIA-TURKEY/

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan speak at a news conference at the state residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi May 16, 2009.

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought support for his country’s bid for a role in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process on Saturday in talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The meeting between the two leaders came as Turkey and Armenia continue negotiations to establish diplomatic relations and open their borders. Ankara has been using the negotiations to gain a foothold in internationally mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, insisting that the Turkish-Armenian border will not be opened until the Karabakh conflict is resolved.

Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with its ally Azerbaijan, which was fighting a war to capture the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an indigenous Armenian territory that broke free of Soviet Rule in 1991.

A Russian-brokered cease-fire in 1994 brought an end to military fighting in the conflict and international mediators working within the OSCE Minsk Group have been seeking a resolution to the conflict since.

Russia is one of the three countries co-chairing the Minsk Group, along with France and the United States. Ankara has sought to carve itself a role in the Karabakh process since Turkey and Armenia began their own talks last September.

“Turkey and Russia have responsibilities in the region. We have to take steps for the peace and wellbeing of the region,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Putin in Sochi on Saturday. “This includes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Middle East dispute, and the Cyprus issue,” he added.

Putin, meanwhile, hinted at his country’s approval for Turkey’s growing role in the Karabakh peace talks but noted that such a role would only serve to facilitate the implementation of agreements reached by Armenia and Azerbaijan

“Any other states that help reach a compromise in this aspect can play the role of mediators and guarantors for the implementation of the agreements reached [between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Putin said. “Russia and Turkey want such problems to be resolved and will facilitate this in every possible way.”

In a sign of growing ties between Moscow and Ankara, the two Prime Ministers also agreed to work on extending a gas supply deal and discussed switching to payments in their national currencies. Russia is Turkey’s largest trading partner, while Turkey is the fifth-largest trading partner for Russia.

“The agreement on gas supplies through the so-called Western route signed in 1986 is expiring in 2012. We have agreed today to immediately start work to prolong this agreement,” Erdogan said at the press conference, referring to gas supply routes that transit Bulgaria.

Erdogan said Russia and Turkey would also continue work on their Blue Stream pipeline project, which supplies just under half of Russian gas to Turkey. Putin said construction of a second Blue Stream gas pipeline has become a priority for both countries.

Erdogan also said Turkey would announce “within days” the results of the tender to build a nuclear power station in Turkey in which Russian firm Atomstroyexport is the sole bidder.

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