TURKEY, ARMENIA ONE STEP CLOSER TO OPEN BORDER

Hurriyet Daily News
Sept 1 2009
Turkey

Turkey and Armenia declared their intention to restore diplomatic
relations in a joint statement issued Monday night. Now both
governments, targeted by nationalists, have six weeks to convince
the public at home prior to the signing of two official agreements

ESTABLISHING COMMUNICATION: President Gul went to Armenia last year
unconditionally, said Davutoglu in an interview on a national news
channel.

Ending nearly a century-old animosity, Turkey and Armenia declared
late Monday that they have agreed to restore diplomatic ties and open
their sealed border.

Operating under Swiss mediation, the two neighboring countries
announced their intension to sign two protocols, one to establish
diplomatic relations and the other to develop bilateral ties, within
six weeks.

The historic move would ensure Armenian President Serge Sarkisian's
visit to Turkey in October for the Turkey-Armenia World Cup qualifying
match.

"The two protocols provide a framework for the normalization of
bilateral relations within a reasonable timeframe. The political
consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which
the two protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective
parliaments for ratification by each side. Both sides will make
their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification
in line with their constitutional and legal procedures," read the
joint statement.

The protocols will enter into force only after a ratification
process. According to Turkish constitutional law, the Parliament's
ratification and presidential approval are required. Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that "the protocols will not come
into force without the ratification of the Parliament."

Informing the public about the developments, Foreign Minister
Ahmet Davutoglu said the move was in line with the government's
zero-problems-with-neighbors policy. "Our main goal is to surround
Turkey with a safe environment that is a source not of crisis but of
stability," he said in an interview with NTV on Tuesday.

Parallel tracks

Turkey and Armenia agreed to a road map April 22, one day before
the traditional U.S. presidential statement on the mass killings of
Armenians during World War I. However, due to the strong Azerbaijani
reaction, Turkey had to subsequently declare that "the border
could be opened only after the withdrawal of Armenian troops from
Nagorno-Karabakh."

When asked whether Turkey has changed its policy again and will open
the border unconditionally, Davutoglu said that "Turkey was envisaging
parallel tracks and it was impossible to sustain the normalization
process without a comprehensive reconciliation in the region."

The foreign minister did not, however, entirely rule out the
possibility of opening the border before an interim solution had been
reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turkey tried to alleviate Azerbaijani concerns over the weekend by
sending two of its top diplomats to Baku to inform them about the
process. "Turkey would never do something to the disadvantage of its
Azerbaijani brothers," Davutoglu said.

"Nothing is more important than Turkish-Azerbaijani friendship,"
the foreign minister added. "We guarantee that the protocols issued
yesterday will not harm the national interests of Azerbaijan. It is
a basic principle. On the contrary, it will accelerate putting an
end to the occupation [of Azerbaijani land]."

Noting that President Abdullah Gul had visited Armenia last year
unconditionally, Davutoglu said it was their right to ask the same
thing from the Armenian leader. Sarkisian has urged Turkey to open
the border or show a sign of intent to do so if it wants him to come
to Turkey to watch the match.

Lobbying at home and abroad

The six-week period designed for political consultations will
be a key lobbying window for Turkish diplomats both at home and
abroad. "Acceptance by society is important. Political leaders will
express the details to the public within domestic consultations,"
Davutoglu said.

The foreign minister, who met with the different political parties
to inform them about foreign-policy issues, is planning to brief
opposition leaders on the latest developments as well. "I can start
a second informative consultation process when I return to Turkey,"
he added. "It is not necessary to hold [bilateral] talks at the same
quick pace since we've reached an agreement."

Davutoglu's comments hinted that lobbying efforts would be increased
in the international arena.

"Over the next six weeks, we will conduct work in this direction with
the international community as well," he said. "In order to make the
efforts known, we will hold talks at every level, including with the
Minsk Group, which is related to the Azerbaijani-Armenian track."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will bring the issue to the agenda
of the U.N. General Assembly.

In the forthcoming talks with world leaders, both Erdogan and
Davutoglu intend to stress that both the Azerbaijani-Armenian and
Turkish-Armenian tracks should improve in parallel with each other
since a comprehensive solution is required to address the frozen
conflicts in the Caucasus.

"To establish a sustainable and permanent peace is also
a responsibility of the international community, such as the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [or OSCE] and
the U.N. It necessitates protection of the unity of Azerbaijan," the
Turkish foreign minister said. "We will push both the international
community and Yerevan for a solution in the Minsk talks."

Davutoglu briefed OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairman and French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner about the latest developments and the
Turkish vision in a phone conversation Tuesday.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana hailed the agreement
between Armenia and Turkey as a "crucial step" toward ending their
decades-long dispute. "I welcome yesterday's agreement between
Turkey and Armenia to start internal political consultations... for
establishing diplomatic relations," Solana said in a statement
issued Tuesday.