By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielyan
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey held on Friday their third face-to-face meeting this year which official Yerevan described as another step towards the reopening of the land border between the two countries.
Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Abdullah Gul spoke in Brussels on the sidelines of a high-level meeting of NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. The talks marked a “small, but nonetheless positive change” in the strained Turkish-Armenian relations, according to Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian.
“The foreign minister of Armenia is satisfied with results of the meeting, especially with regard to the opening of the border,” Gasparian told RFE/RL without elaborating.
“The minister believes that this meeting too was effective,” he added, referring to the two previous Oskanian-Gul encounters earlier this year.
The first such talks held in May raised expectations of a lifting of Turkey’s decade-long economic blockade of Armenia that had been imposed out of solidarity with Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Ankara hinted that it might stop linking the improvement of bilateral ties to a Karabakh settlement and reopen the border without establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan. But some Turkish officials subsequently ruled out such a possibility.
Statements by Armenian leaders have also been contradictory. Oskanian said on October that the border’s opening is “not imminent,” while the more influential Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian claimed a few days earlier that the likelihood of that is “great.” Officials in Yerevan also spoke of an interim solution whereby only diplomats and tourists will initially be allowed to cross the Turkish-Armenian frontier.
The United States believes that cross-border commerce between the two estranged nations would defuse tensions in the volatile region and has been pressing the Turks to soften their Armenian policy. Washington was behind the creation in 2001 of the controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) -- a panel of retired diplomats and scholars that has served as an informal channel of communication between the two governments.
A meeting of TARC, scheduled for October, was cancelled for unknown reasons. No dates have been set yet for another meeting.
In a brief statement, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said that Oskanian and Gul also discussed the situation in the South Caucasus and the unresolved Karabakh dispute. It said the two men agreed to continue their “direct dialogue.”