Sept 2 2008

ISTANBUL - Russia and Turkey are working on a simplified customs
system in order to overcome the ongoing trade row between the
countries. Russian and Turkish foreign ministers also emphasized
the friendship and significant cooperation between the two
neighbors. (UPDATED)

The Russian Foreign Minister paid a one-day working visit to Turkey
on Tuesday where he met his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan in
Istanbul. The two ministers had discussed the trade row, recent
developments in Caucasus, and Iran and Iraq.

Russia was not discriminating against Turkey in the trade relations
between the countries, hit by a recent customs dispute, Lavrov told
the joint conference with Babacan, adding Russian customs authorities
were working to simplify their bilateral customs system.

Hundreds of trucks transporting Turkish exports to Russia have been
held at the country's checkpoints for up to four weeks, costing
exporters billions of dollars in losses.

The row has triggered speculation that Russia is trying to punish
Turkey for allowing U.S. warships carrying aid to Georgia to pass
through the Bosporus to the Black Sea.

Lavrov, however, denied that stricter Russian controls on Turkish
imports are politically motivated, underlining Russia's commitment
to reach the 25-billion-dollars trade volume target in 2008.

He said some countries had breached customs regulations prompting
Russian authorities to take more stringent measures.

Babacan said he believed that trade problems between Turkey and
Russia would be overcome with a flexible attitude and the cooperation
of Russia.

"We discussed in a sincere and constructive way the problems caused
by keeping and checking Turkish products at Russian customs gates
longer than usual," Babacan told the conference.


Russia also reiterated its support to the Turkey-sponsored idea of
forming a Caucasian stability and partnership platform.

"We have also agreed to further develop cooperations (in the Black Sea)
such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)", he said.

Turkey had offered to form a Caucasus alliance to contribute peaceful
solutions to the conflicts in the region. The alliance is envisaged
to bring together Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan,
though the task seems to be hard given the bilateral issues between
these countries.

Lavrov said some conditions should be met in order to take part in
such a formation. A similar comment was also made by the Georgian
Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili who met Babacan on Sunday.


Turkish and Russian top diplomats also agreed to maintain security
and peace in the region, adding that international responsibilities
were violated and attacks were staged on South Ossetia.

"Under those circumstances recognition of independence of Ossetia and
Abkhazia was the only way out," Lavrov added. He said recognition
would not only protect the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
but also it would be the only alternative for those people to pursue
their existence.

He also reiterated Russia's support for sending an international
police mission to Georgia to help maintain security around South
Ossetia and the similarly secessionist region of Abhkazia.

"We are in favor of an international police mission in the security
zone, especially in the framework of the OSCE (Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe)," the Russian minister said.

Lavrov criticized NATO members for arming Georgia ahead of last months
conflict over a rebel region.

"International agreements were violated when Georgia was given
arms... In practice, it was NATO countries who were arming (Georgian
President Mikheil) Saakashvili," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said Moscow had no intention of keeping its forces there


Both ministers also underlined the relations between two countries
based on friendship and cooperation.

Babacan said the two countries' have been cooperating on energy,
and hoped that new joint projects would be implemented in the future.

"Turkey has a key position in transferring oil and natural gas of
Russia and other producer companies in the region to consumer markets
safely and economically," he said.

Lavrov said the relations between two countries are intact and
acknowledged Turkey's responsibilities as a NATO member.