YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan gave no indications of an impending breakthrough in his country’s relations with Armenia on Thursday as he visited Yerevan to attend a meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization.
His Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian, insisted, nonetheless, that Ankara and Yerevan may still normalize their historically strained relations “soon.”
Babacan refrained from making any public statements during the one-day trip which ended with a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian. A short statement by Sarkisian’s office gave no details of the talks. Babacan also took part in a separate group meeting between Sarkisian and participants of the BSEC session.
While in Yerevan, Babacan also met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mamedguliev.
Recent reports in Turkish and Western media said that the two governments could use the BSEC meeting to announce agreement on a gradual normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. However, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out such possibility, repeatedly stating this month that Ankara will not establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and reopen the Turkish-Armenian border before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Babacan appeared to reaffirm that linkage as he spoke to CNN-Turk television on his way to Yerevan. According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” he said the Turkish-Armenian dialogue must run parallel with international efforts to settle the Karabakh conflict.
“Today we have no intention to sign any document regarding the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations,” Nalbandian told journalists after the BSEC meeting. “Negotiations continue. We have made progress and believe that we can really be very close to solving those issues soon.”
Nalbandian also made clear that Yerevan remains opposed to direct Turkish involvement in international efforts to settle the Karabakh dispute. “Turkey will not play the role of a mediator in the Karabakh peace process,” he said.
The Armenian minister was speaking at a joint news conference with Mamedguliev, whose country assumed the BSEC’s rotating presidency from Armenia at the Yerevan meeting. Mamedguliev, a rare Azerbaijani official visiting Armenia, reaffirmed Baku’s strong opposition to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations before Karabakh peace. “Our position is the following: the restoration of links between Turkey and Armenia may only be conditional on the resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he said.
By contrast, Lavrov welcomed the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “First of all, this is the bilateral affair of Armenia and Turkey,” he said after the talks with Babacan. “We welcome all steps leading to the normalization of relations between any countries of the region.”