BUCHAREST (RFE/RL)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned on Tuesday that the European Union’s reported readiness to grant Turkey a major role in future operations in the Caucasus by the EU’s embryonic crisis management force is "of serious concern" to Armenia.
Turkey has for months blocked formation of a new EU defense force by refusing to agree to the latter’s use of NATO’s military facilities. Ankara wants to have a say in its operations. The Turkish government announced on Sunday that it will drop the objections.
The Associated Press said Tuesday that the moved reportedly followed EU assurances that non-EU member Turkey will be consulted on a case-by-case basis for operations in its sphere of interest such as Iraq–the Caucasus or the Balkans–and that the force will not interfere in Turkey’s territorial conflicts with EU-member Greece. According to Reuters news agency–the Turks want the right to participate in any EU security operation in their vicinity as the price for granting assured access to NATO assets and planning resources.
Oskanian said he also has received such information and is concerned that Turkish troops may be guaranteed involvement in a multi-national peace-keeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh that would be part of an Armenian-Azeri peace deal. He told RFE/RL that Ankara "has no moral right" to demand a veto power with regard to Karabakh because of its hostile stance against the Armenian side.
The fate of the European rapid reaction force is on the agenda of talks in Ankara between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Powell arrived in the Turkish capital on Tuesday to rally support for actions of the US-led counter-terrorism alliance after the campaign in Afghanistan.
Oskanian made the commen’s in a phone interview from the Romanian capital Bucharest where he attended an annual meeting of his counterparts from the countries making up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Speaking at the gathering–he accused Azerbaijan of backtracking on the agreemen’s reached at Karabakh peace talks earlier this year.
"So short is Azerbaijan’s memory and so shallow its commitment to peace–that it is even unwilling to accept any reference to the Paris and Key West meetings in [the OSCE foreign ministers’] statement," he said.
Armenian officials and the French–Russian and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group say serious headway was made at the talks held in March and April this year. The mediators declared at the time that the parties are as close to a long-awaited deal as never before. But the Azeri leaders deny that any major agreemen’s were reached at Paris and Key West.
"That tells a lot," Oskanian told RFE/RL later in the day. "Azerbaijan is now backtracking on the agreemen’s approved by the three co-chairs."
Addressing fellow ministers–Oskanian also reiterated the Armenian view that Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azeri state and therefore has a legitimate right to be beyond Baku’s control. He said: "Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Soviet Azerbaijan was both legal–peaceful–and just?Just as Azerbaijan was no longer willing to accept the Soviet legacy–and withdrew from the Union–Nagorno-Karabakh was no longer willing to live under conditions imposed arbitrarily by Stalin decades earlier."
Meanwhile–deputy defense minister and chief of staff of the Armenian armed forces General Harutunian ,in an interview with the RFE/RL–said that Turkish troops might participate in NATO military exercise–planned to be held in Armenia in 2003.
Harutunian said the list of countries that will participate in the exercise will be specified in 2002. According to him–several dozens of countries may take part in the exercises. The General said preparation for the exercises would begin next year.