BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The European Union must begin talks on strengthening economic, trade and security ties with Armenia, despite neighboring Azerbaijan's strained relationships with the 25-nation bloc, European Parliament President Josep Borrell said Thursday.
The EU had originally planned to start negotiations on tighter cooperation with all three South Caucasus states – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy program.
The talks were delayed last month, however, after Azerbaijan's relations with the EU deteriorated over Baku's ties with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic.
A Turkish Cypriot Airlines plane flew into Baku in August in defiance of an embargo from international aviation authorities on the Turkish Cypriot airport. Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Serdar Denktash was on the plane.
Azerbaijan allowed the flight in a show of solidarity with Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, who are campaigning for an end to their international isolation.
"It would be strange to block the start of the talks with Armenia over Cyprus - that dispute doesn't concern Armenia at all," Borrell said after meeting with Armenia's President Robert Kocharian. "The European Parliament will do what it can to make sure the EU negotiates with Armenia."
The EU's executive Commission also wants the European Neighborhood Policy to be negotiated with Egypt and Lebanon. Launched last fall, the "ring of friends" policy offers extensive cooperation in political, security and economic matters.
Kocharian said he hoped his country would be able to start the negotiations with the EU by the end of the year.
Borrell reiterated that the early 20th-century massacre of Armenians must be recognized as genocide, and that the Turkish border with Armenia must be opened as a precondition for Turkey's membership in the EU.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during Christian Armenia's six-year war with Muslim Azerbaijan. Landlocked Armenia says the border closure is devastating
Last month, the EU assembly issued a resolution calling on Turkey to recognize the killing of more than 1 million Armenians during and after World War I as a genocide.
Kocharian was to meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana later Thursday.