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By Harry Tamrazian in Prague

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian indicated Saturday that the governments of Armenia and Turkey may soon launch direct contacts to discuss problems hampering normalization of their relations.

Oskanian described as "useful" his meeting on Friday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York.

"I think there will be a continuation of that meeting in the near future," Oskanian told RFE/RL in a phone interview from New York. "Both sides are in a mood to try to address our bilateral issues through a direct dialogue. In that sense this was a positive development in our relations."

Oskanian declined to unveil further details of his talks with Cem and cautioned that it should not fuel excessive expectations of improved Turkish-Armenian relations as "numerous problems" still exist between the two nations.

The meeting came after more than a year of heightened tensions between Ankara and Yerevan triggered by a wave of resolutions by several European states recognizing the 1915 genocide of Armenians. Turkey tightened its visa regime for Armenian nationals in November 2000 after a similar resolution was nearly approved by the US House of Representatives.

Ankara lifted the visa restrictions last month in a move it described as a "goodwill gesture." The Armenian foreign ministry has cautiously welcomed it.

The Turkish government refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit reiterating this position during his recent visit to the United States, it is not clear how the bilateral ties can improve before a solution is found to the dispute.

Also, Oskanian made no mention of last week's arrest of an Armenian citizen on charges of spying for Turkey.

The two governments' apparent desire to start direct contacts follows the collapse of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission. The private body comprising former government officials was supposed to serve as an unofficial channel of communication between the two estranged nations.
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