Monday, August 31, 2009

Armenia, Turkey move towards diplomatic ties

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia and Turkey said on Monday they would complete talks in six weeks and sign an accord on re-establishing diplomatic relations after almost a century of hostility.

The neighbors have no diplomatic ties, a closed border and a history of mutual distrust stemming from the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One. Turkey rejects allegations that the killing of Armenians was genocide.

The two countries announced in April that they had agreed a plan for normalizing relations, but gave no details. Diplomats said it included the reopening of the border and establishment of diplomatic ties.

Monday's joint statement, issued by the foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey and mediator Switzerland, said they would begin "internal political consultations" on protocols to establish diplomatic relations and develop bilateral relations.

"The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two Protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective Parliaments for the ratification on each side," the statement said.

"Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures."

Armenia has been pressing for concrete progress since the April announcement, and President Serzh Sarksyan is due to attend the return leg of a World Cup qualifying football match between the two countries in Turkey in October.

Turkey closed the frontier in 1993 in solidarity with fellow Muslim Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarksyan has said he will not travel to the football match, the first leg of which Turkish President Abdullah Gul watched last year in Yerevan, unless the border has reopened or there are at least clear signs it is about to re-open.

But since the April announcement, Turkish government officials -- faced with a backlash from Azerbaijan -- have said the border will not re-open until Armenia makes concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.

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