(AFP) - Turkey Tuesday lent support for a gradual approach to resolving a long-standing feud between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"We are ready to expend all efforts for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh-Karabakh problem... within the framework of a step-by-step approach," President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said after talks with visiting Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliev.
Turkey and Azerbaijan, neighbors and allies, share close ethnic and linguistic bonds.
"Turkey has always stood by Azerbaijan on the Karabakh-Karabakh problem. Today's meetings confirmed that once again," Aliev said.
Improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia, who fought a war over the enclave in the early 1990s, carry significance for Turkey. Such a prospect can pave the way for a corresponding thaw in relations between Ankara and Yerevan. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to strengthen Baku's position against Yerevan over Karabakh-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian populated region of Azerbaijan which came under de facto Armenian control after a 1994 ceasefire.
Azerbaijan is now worried that Turkey may re-open the border in a bid to please the European Union, which it is seeking to join. In a newspaper interview on the eve of his visit, Aliev said Azerbaijan was ready to mend fences with Armenia if it returned part of the territory it had seized during the war between the two.
"We are ready to start talks if they return five of the seven regions they occupied. We will open the railroad, the (border) gates. Economic relations will start," Aliev told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. "Then the opening of the (border) gate between Turkey and Armenia will also become possible," he added.
Neither Sezer nor Aliev referred to the issue after their talks. A Turkish diplomat who attended the meeting said: "Turkey is trying to contribute to the resolution of the Karabakh-Karabakh problem and at the same time is trying to resolve its own problems with Armenia."