By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian will not attend a NATO summit in Istanbul next month due to the persisting strained relations between Armenia and Turkey, his chief spokesman said on Monday.
“That has nothing to do with the Armenia-NATO relationship which is currently on the rise,” the presidential press secretary, Ashot Kocharian, told reporters, citing Yerevan’s growing involvement in the U.S.-led alliance’s Partnership for Peace program.
“The president’s non-participation in the work of the summit has more to do with the current state of Turkish-Armenian relations,” he said. He added that there has been no “considerable progress” in the U.S.-backed efforts to improve them in the past year.
U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac are among dozens of Western leaders due to attend the summit in Turkey's largest city on June 28-29. The leaders of neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia, which view NATO membership as a long-term foreign policy goal, are also likely to be on hand.
Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic relations, the establishment of which Ankara links to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Senior officials from either country have made rare visits to the other over the past decade only to take part in high-level international meetings. Kocharian, for example, attended the November 1999 summit in Istanbul of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Turkey signaled last year its readiness to reopen its border with Armenia before a Karabakh settlement -- a move which would please the United States and the European Union but would jeopardize its close ties with Azerbaijan. Some Armenian sources involved in contacts with Turkish officials said earlier this year that the decision to lift the 11-year blockade might be announced during the NATO summit.
However, Kocharian’s decision not to travel to Istanbul suggests that the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border is still not on the cards.
Turkish leaders reportedly assured Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev last month that they will continue to link the normalization of relations with Armenia to a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the Karabakh dispute. “It is out of the question for now to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border,” Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said afterward.
Gul also called for a trilateral meeting on Karabakh of the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Turkish foreign ministers. Turkish diplomatic sources were quoted as saying that the meeting could take place on the sidelines of the Istanbul summit.