By Emil Danielyan
The administration of President George W. Bush, seeking to placate opponents of its proposed new economic benefits to Turkey, has promised to press Ankara to lift its decade-long economic blockade of Armenia, reports from Washington said on Wednesday.
According to the Reuters news agency, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has written to members of the U.S. Senate, promising to push for the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the restoration of broader "economic, political and cultural links" between Turkey and Armenia. Armitage's letter came in response to strong objections to further trade concessions to Turkey voiced by Armenian American lobbying groups.
The Bush administration is lobbying Congress to pass legislation which would grant many Turkish goods duty-free access to the U.S. market. It was approved by the House of Representatives this week and is pending debate in the Senate.
Reuters said Vice President Dick Cheney has played a central role in the effort, calling lawmakers to approve the legislation ahead of a possible war with Iraq. Turkish support would be vital for the success of the U.S.-led military campaign. The proposed trade measures also face opposition from some American manufacturers, who fear a flood of cheap Turkish imports.
The United States has for years sought to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations, considering them extremely important for regional stability. However, U.S. efforts to get successive Turkish governments to lift the blockade and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia have so far yielded no results. Similar attempts made by the European Union have also failed.
Ankara says it will not reopen the Turkish-Armenian border until a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would restore Azerbaijani control of the disputed territory.