Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
January 21, 2009
By Ruben Meloyan
Echoing statements by his Turkish counterpart, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has said that Armenia and Turkey have come close to normalizing their historically strained relations.
He also dismissed Ankara's warnings that the new U.S. administration will set back the process if it recognizes the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The two neighbors embarked on a dramatic rapprochement last year, culminating in Turkish President Abdullah Gul's historic September trip to Yerevan. In a series of follow-up negotiations, Nalbandian and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan reportedly made further progress toward the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border.
"Turkey and Armenia have never been closer to a plan on normalizing relations," Babacan said late last week.
Commenting on this statement, Nalbandian said that Yerevan continues to stand for an unconditional normalization of bilateral ties. "Our position is unchanged and we expect the same approach from Turkey," he told a news conference on January 21. "In that case, we are really very close to solving the issue. In that sense, I share Babacan's view that we are very close to normalizing relations."
But he stressed that Ankara should drop its preconditions for diplomatic relations and an open border if the process is to reach a successful conclusion. A resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan has been one of those preconditions.
Turkey also wants an end to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide. Babacan warned that U.S. President Barack Obama "will harm the process" if he honors his election campaign pledge to term the Armenian massacres a genocide once in office.
Nalbandian disagreed with that. "If there is a genuine desire to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, then nothing can impede that," he said.
The minister also sounded a note of caution about international mediators' stated hopes to broker a framework agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh in the first half of this year. Matthew Bryza, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, told RFE/RL on January 20 that the mediators will "try to have it signed in the beginning of summer."
He said the success of those efforts depends not only on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan but public support in both countries for the proposed basic principles of a Karabakh settlement.
"The societies will be presented with principles that have been agreed on," Nalbandian said. "Negotiations are continuing on the basis of the principles proposed by the co-chairs, and there is no agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan."
"If we reach such agreements, we will come to a point where they will be presented to the publics in both Armenia and Karabakh," he added. "And if there is popular support for them, the leadership will be able to make some decisions. But I wouldn't set any time frames."