13:11 01/09/2008

A Turkish Foreign Ministry delegation will visit Yerevan this week
to discuss a proposed platform for the troubled Caucasus, Turkish
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan announced yesterday.

Turkish "Zaman" reports that Babacan, speaking at a joint press
conference with his Georgian counterpart, Eka Tkeshelashvili in
Ä°stanbul, said the delegation will present Turkish ideas concerning
the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, proposed by Turkey as
a mechanism to develop conflict resolution methods among the Caucasus
ountries. The proposed platform is planned to be made up of Turkey,
Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

"We will present our views concerning the Caucasus platform to our
counterparts in Yerevan," Babacan said.

The question of how to establish contact between the estranged
neighbors Turkey and Armenia is just one of the obstacles that the
proposed Caucasus platform faces.

According to Turkish media, Azerbaijan is unlikely to warm to any
sort of cooperation or contact with Armenia due to the continued
occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Georgia, for its part, refuses any
contact with Russia unless Russian forces withdraw from Georgia.

Tkeshelashvili reiterated in Ä°stanbul that what Russia must do now is
to withdraw from Georgian territory and fully implement a cease-fire
agreement. After that Georgia can begin assessing proposals for
contacts with Russia in a multilateral setting, she said. Russia,
she said, should see that it cannot act the way it used to in the past.

Turkish analysts warn that contacts with Armenia could offend
Azerbaijan, Turkey's regional ally which also shares close ethnic
and linguistic ties. Babacan assured his Azerbaijani counterpart,
Elmar Mammadyarov, on Friday that Turkey was a strategic partner of
Azerbaijan in all areas but signs of tension were visible during the
one-day visit. The two ministers gave a very brief press statement
after their talks and Mammadyarov said before meeting Babacan that his
country would consider "profitability" concerning a Russian proposal to
buy Azerbaijani oil, a move that would undermine a US-backed pipeline
to transfer Caspian oil to Europe via Turkey.

Turkish government's apparent plans to initiate dialogue with
Armenia are receiving criticism at home as well. Main opposition
Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal told reporters
yesterday that the government was trying to reverse the official
policy without Armenia meeting any of the conditions requested by
Turkey for normalization of ties.

He warned against alienating Azerbaijan, saying this country is of
vital importance for Turkey in many respects. "I want the government
to refrain from taking any step that would harm Azerbaijan," he said
and added that he would rather go to Baku than to Yerevan to watch
the World Cup game.

However, analysts say with so many issues of dispute among the five
countries, the idea to bring them around the same table to discuss
disputes could be mere wishful thinking. But contacts have been
intense since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the
proposal. Erdogan has visited Moscow, Tbilisi and Baku to discuss
the proposal. The Azerbaijani foreign minister had talks in Ankara
on Friday and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to
arrive in Ä°stanbul today for talks on Tuesday.