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Turkey, France Seek To Heal Wounds Over Armenian Vote


By Suzan Fraser, Associated Press Writer

ANKARA, (AP) - The foreign ministers of Turkey and France held talks in Ankara Friday, saying they aimed to heal a relationship damaged by French recognition of the killings of Armenians as genocide.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem signaled however, that French companies would continue to be barred from bidding for Turkish defense contracts.

"We have decided to look to the future without forgetting the past," Cem told reporters during a joint press conference. "There is a government decision (regarding
contracts) and that hasn't changed."

France's parliament voted in January to acknowledge what Armenians say was the genocidal slaughter of 1.5 million of their people in an Ottoman Empire campaign to force them from eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1923. Turkey says the death count is inflated, and that Armenians were killed or displaced as the Ottoman Empire tried to quell civil unrest.

Turkey retaliated against several French companies, canceling millions of dollars worth of defense deals.

"The decision taken by the French parliament had a negative affect on our relationship ... but France is traditionally a country in the European Union that supports Turkey," Cem said. Turkey was accepted as a candidate to join the EU in 1999.

Hubert Vedrine, his French counterpart who is on a one-day visit to Turkey, said France wanted "to show solidarity with Turkey in a difficult economic time." The Turkish lira has lost half its dollar value since a crisis broke February.

The ministers said they were keen to maintain a dialogue over Cyprus and European defense plans, two issues where Turkey and the EU disagree. Turkey has warned against EU plans to accept Cyprus as an EU member without a settlement on the island, which has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974.

Turkey also opposes plans for an EU defense force which would have access to NATO resources. As a non-EU NATO member, Turkey argues that it should play a role in decision-making in the new force.

Vedrine said the EU had to pay attention to Turkey's concerns but called on Turkey to "understand and facilitate the European project." Vedrine met Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit later Friday. He was not scheduled to meet President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who is out of town. Newspapers reported that Sezer had snubbed Vedrine in protest of the Armenian genocide resolution.
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