TURKEY'S PRESIDENT TO MAKE 'POSSIBLE' VISIT TO ARMENIA: MINISTER

Agence France Presse
August 31, 2008 Sunday 3:44 PM GMT

Turkey's foreign minister said Sunday he is sending a diplomatic
delegation to Armenia in the coming week to draw up plans for a
"possible" landmark visit by President Abdullah Gul.

"A delegation from my ministry will travel to Armenia in the course
of the coming week to discuss the form of a possible visit by the
head of state," Ali Babacan said at a press conference.

Armenia's President Serge Sarkissian invited Gul to attend football
World Cup qualifiers between Armenia and Turkey at Yerevan on
September 6.

His visit could help improve relations between the two foes.

Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia since
the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991 because of
Armenian efforts to secure international recognition of Armenian
massacres under the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

At an official reception on Saturday evening, Turkey's Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to confirm the president's visit,
saying he will "accompany my foreign minister."

However, Gul, who attended the event, said he had not yet made up
his mind.

Last week, local media reported that the president's office said it
will announce the trip within the next few days.

If the visit takes place, it could help ease relations between the
two neighbours, whose diplomatic ties have been strained by their
conflicting versions of the fate of the Armenians during the Ottoman
Empire.

Armenia claims up to 1.5 million of its people were killed in
orchestrated massacres during World War I as the Ottoman Empire,
Turkey's predecessor, was falling apart.

Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that 300,000 Armenians
and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took
up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading
Russian troops.