By Emil Danielyan
The United States is pushing hard for the lifting of Turkey’s economic blockade of Armenia, according to a State Department report obtained by RFE/RL on Thursday.
“The U.S. Government continues to press the Government of Turkey at every appropriate opportunity to open the border with Armenia,” the document says. “Most recently the issue was raised with Turkish officials during Secretary [of State Colin] Powell’s April 2 visit to Ankara.”
The report, personally approved by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, was drafted recently in response to a Congressional inquiry last year on the status of Turkish-Armenian relations and the Bush administration’s position on the issue. It makes a strong case for the restoration of commercial links between the two rival nations.
“Assuming the Turkish-Armenian border were reopened, one would expect: a reduction in transportation costs to and from Armenia, an increase in Turkish-Armenian trade and an improved overall economic environment in Armenia and eastern Turkey,” the report says, adding that the benefits would also be felt “throughout the region.”
Armenia, it says, could also serve as “the most direct transportation corridor” between Turkey and its close ally Azerbaijan. An open Turkish-Armenian border, according to the U.S. State Department, could lead to “an uninterrupted railroad link between Istanbul and Baku and the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas.”
Successive Turkish governments have refused to normalize relations with Armenia until the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh, in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan. U.S. efforts to get to Ankara to change its tough line have not been successful so far.
The State Department report gives no further Armenia-related details of Powell’s talks in Ankara which focused on the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. But it does reveal that Armenia’s accession to the World Trade Organization last December was facilitated by Turkey. “The Government of Turkey altered its stance on Armenia’s WTO accession last year, helping to pave the way for Armenia’s accession in December 2002,” it says.
The Turks had reportedly objected to Armenia’s entry into the WTO, apparently fearing that Yerevan could use the WTO framework to challenge the Turkish blockade. Armenian officials ruled out such a possibility last fall.
The State Department also says that U.S. officials discussed the Turkish-Armenian ties during Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s February visit to Washington. It implicitly praises Yerevan for “encouraging” and “increasing” various-level diplomatic contacts with Ankara in the course of 2002.