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By Hrach Melkumian in Istanbul

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Tuesday that the full normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is still a long way off despite easing tensions between the two nations. Speaking after a rare meeting in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, he cautioned against any “illusions” about a quick improvement of bilateral relations, saying that “numerous hurdles” still stand in the way.

“This is going to be a long process,” Oskanian told reporters following his third meeting with Cem this year.

Few details of the crucial negotiations were made available to the media. The two ministers were scheduled to answer local and foreign journalists’ questions after the talks. However, the press briefing was cancelled for unknown reasons.

A Turkish foreign ministry official said only that the meeting lasted for about 45 minutes and mainly focused on the overall situation in the South Caucasus, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He indicated that the two sides did not discuss ways of normalizing bilateral ties at length, with Oskanian only “presenting” the Armenian position on the issue.

Agence France Presse quoted an unnamed Turkish diplomat as describing the talks as “positive.” "The two sides have agreed to continue their discussions in the future," the source added.

Oskanian said he has witnessed a “positive change” in the Turkish position on the Karabakh problem, arguing that Ankara now seems ready to pursue a “more balanced” policy toward Armenia and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan. He said Turkey can play a “constructive and positive role” in the region if that policy change deepens.

The unresolved Karabakh dispute is the main stated reason for Turkey’s long-running refusal to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia. Ankara has also been incensed by Yerevan’s strong support for international recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The latest Oskanian-Cem meeting took place on the sidelines of the Istanbul summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSCE), of which both estranged countries are members. The organization, founded in 1992, also comprises Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. Their leaders admitted that it has yet to become an effective framework for multilateral cooperation.

"We accept today that difficulties still persist in using our potential in the best way and transforming it into a gradually increasing mutual interaction to the benefit of our people," they said a concluding declaration. "In this respect, we affirm our determination to fully utilize the opportunities offered by the BSEC charter and turn its principles and aims into daily practices," the declaration added.

Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who was attending the summit unlike his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, avoided usual harsh attacks on Armenia in his address to the BSEC leaders. But he reiterated that a peaceful settlement must uphold Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh.

Aliev discussed the dispute on Tuesday with French, Russian and U.S. mediators who had specially arrived in Istanbul to meet him. They met with Oskanian late on Monday. The Armenian foreign ministry said they discussed “the latest developments in the peace process and possibilities of pushing that process forward.”
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