May 20 2009

ANKARA, May 21 (Reuters) - Turkey should not link its efforts to
normalise ties with Armenia to a settlement between Armenia and
Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a French negotiator said on

Ankara and Yerevan have been engaged for months in high-level talks
aimed at establishing diplomatic relations after a century of hostility
and last month announced a "road map" to reopen their borders.

But after Turkey's Muslim ally Azerbaijan condemned the
reconciliation moves, Ankara said there would be no progress until
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was resolved.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with
Azerbaijan, which fought a war with ethnic Armenian separatists in
the 1990s over the Caucasus enclave.

Last week, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan promised Azerbaijan's
President Ilham Aliyev during a visit to Baku that Turkey would not
open the border with Armenia until the "occupation" of Nagorno-Karabakh

"Normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations and the settlement of
the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute are two separate processes which should
continue in parallel but along their own paths," the French Embassy
in Ankara said in a statement after a visit earlier this week by
Bernard Fassier, a co-chairman of the Minsk Group.

The Minsk group -- set up in 1992 and co-chaired by Russia, the United
States and France -- is seeking a solution to Nagorno-Karabakh, one
of the most intractable conflicts arising from the Soviet Union's

A thaw between Turkey and Armenia, who trace their dispute to the mass
killing of Christian Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One,
would shore up stability in the Caucasus and boost Turkey's drive to
join the European Union.

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Ankara and Yerevan to reach a
solution soon, but Turkey has been careful not to harm energy projects
with Azerbaijan.

The two countries, which share linguistic and cultural ties, are in
talks to sign energy deals, including the purchase of Azeri gas which
could be used for the planned Nabucco pipeline to transport Caspian gas
to Europe. (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Janet Lawrence)