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Armenian minister: Turks want closer ties



YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenia’s foreign minister said Wednesday that a brief meeting with the Turkish leader at this week’s NATO summit convinced him that relations could improve between the uneasy neighbors with a dark history.

Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian spoke for 10 minutes with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the two-day summit that ended Tuesday in Istanbul.

“During that meeting I was again convinced that the current Turkish government sincerely wants to achieve a change for the better in resolving relations with Armenia,” Oskanian said, without elaborating.

The summit was attended by numerous leaders from non-NATO member states like Armenia. President Robert Kocharian had refused to attend, saying that he was dissatisfied with his country’s relations with Turkey. He sent his foreign minister instead.

Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations, although the Turks recently have expressed a willingness to improve the situation between the two countries.

Armenians accuse Turks of a genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. Turks claim the number of deaths is inflated and say the victims were killed in civil unrest.

The two countries also are at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region within Azerbaijan that has been under ethnic Armenian control since a war that ended in 1994 without a political settlement.

Turkey, which shares close ethnic ties with Azerbaijan and supported that nation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, has maintained an economic blockade of Armenia, hobbling development in this landlocked former Soviet republic.

Oskanian said that he also discussed the possibility of resuming railroad service between the two nations during a separate meeting his with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul.

Oskanian noted, however, that despite gradually developing ties with Turkey, Armenia would object to Turkey “pretending to be an impartial mediator” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Oskanian also said he held discussions Wednesday with the U.S. administration about Armenia’s intention to veto a proposal that would give Turkey the acting chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2007.

Armenia thinks the role can only be filled by a nation that has diplomatic relations with all the OSCE’s member states, Oskanian said, but he added that talks were still being held on the issue.

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