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Turkey - Armenia : Sarkozy praised Turkish visit to Erevan

Friday 12 September 2008, by Today’s Zaman

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn have praised President Abdullah Gül’s visit to Armenia to watch a World Cup qualifying match between the national teams of the two countries. Sarkozy welcomed the visit, the first ever by a Turkish president since Armenia became independent in 1991, as “courageous and historic.”

Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said in a statement on Saturday: "While the region is in the midst of a serious crisis, [his visit] is a courageous and historic gesture for Turkish-Armenian relations.

It allows hope for progress soon in establishing normal relations between Turkey and Armenia."

Sarkozy is a staunch opponent of Turkey’s accession into the EU, saying it culturally and geographically does not belong in Europe. But he praised Turkey’s role in mediating peace talks between Israel and Syria and said Europe was grateful for its assistance at a summit in Damascus on the Middle East last week.

He paid “tribute to the political courage of President Gül and President [Serzh] Sarksyan” of Armenia and said he was hoping that reaching out will allow both countries to show the world that “reconciliation is possible through openness, dialogue and the respect of others.”

Speaking to reporters in Avignon, France, on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also praised Gül and said the EU welcomed his visit to Armenia.

Turkey’s Armenia initiative follows its efforts to create a Caucasus platform to resolve regional disputes after a brief Georgian-Russian war last month. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, who attended the talks with EU foreign ministers on Saturday, said he was optimistic that French position towards Turkey would soften as Paris gets to know Turkey better and understands its importance in the region.

“We have been holding constant talks in the recent past with France. As France understands us better, France’s perspective and thoughts on Turkey will change positively,” Babacan said on Saturday in Avignon. He said he had briefed his EU counterparts about the Turkish government’s recent efforts to help peace in the Caucasus and a proposed Caucasus platform for regional stability and cooperation.

Babacan also said Turkey expected to open two more negotiating chapters with the EU during the French presidency, which will expire at the end of the year. EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn also commended on Gül’s initiative to go to Yerevan and praised Turkey’s energetic diplomacy to help solve frozen conflicts in the Caucasus. “I certainly hope that this will pave the way for a breakthrough in Turkey-Armenian relations and return to normal diplomatic relations, to the opening of the border and dealing with sensitive historical issues,” Rehn said.

Speaking before the soccer game, Rehn joked, “If Turkey plays as well as they did in the European [soccer] championship, they should cause a diplomatic incident in Yerevan.”

“Turkey’s active diplomacy towards Syria, the Middle East, Armenia and the Caucasus show its paramount importance as our partner in advancing regional stability in one of the most unstable parts of the world,” Rehn said. “The EU accession process would further facilitate joint work by the EU and Turkey to stabilize those regions.” İstanbul

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Source : Today’s Zaman, 08 September 2008

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