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AFP
Turkey's foreign minister has warned Barack Obama's incoming administration that any U.S. recognition of Armenian massacres by Ottoman Turks as genocide could derail reconciliation efforts between the two neighbors.

"It would not be very rational for a third country to take a position on this issue... A wrong step by the United States will harm the process," the Anatolia news agency quoted Ali Babacan as saying late Friday.

Turkey has "never been closer" to normalizing ties with Armenia, its eastern neighbor, and a breakthrough could be secured in 2009, the minister said.

Obama, who takes office Tuesday, pledged to his Armenian-American supporters during his election campaign to recognize the World War I killings as genocide. Washington has traditionally condemned the massacres, but has so far refrained from terming them genocide due to concern about straining relations with Turkey, a NATO member and a key ally in the Middle East.

Babacan said the dispute was among the issues that Ankara and Yerevan had been discussing since reconciliation efforts gathered steam in September when Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a landmark visit to Armenia. "Turkey and Armenia have never been closer to a plan on normalizing relations," Anatolia quoted Babacan as saying.

The fence-mending process, he said, was boosted by similar reconciliation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey. "The prospect of normalizing relations both between Azerbaijan and Armenia and between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 is not a dream," he added.

Ankara has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Yerevan on account of its campaign to have the killings recognized as genocide. In 1993, it also shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, then at war with Armenia over Nagorny-Karabakh, dealing a heavy blow to the impoverished nation.
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