(Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan promised Muslim ally Azerbaijan on Wednesday that Ankara will not open its border with Armenia until Armenia ends its prominent role in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Erdogan was in Baku to ease Azerbaijan's concerns over reconciliation moves by Turkey and Armenia to end decades of hostility. These have alarmed Azerbaijan which first wants to resolve Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory over which it fought a war with ethnic Armenian separatists in the 1990s.
"There is a cause and effect relation here. Occupation of Karabakh is the cause here and closing of the border is the effect. It is impossible for us to open the border unless that occupation ends," Erdogan told a joint news conference with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliev.
Azerbaijan -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses Azerbaijani parliament, Baku, 13May2009
Erdogan told Azerbaijan’s parliament later in the day: "Ankara will take no steps as long as we do not agree with our Azeri brothers".
Aliev said he was "grateful" for Erdogan's words. "The people of Azerbaijan have been disturbed by reports in the mass media that Turkey could open its borders with Armenia without the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he said. "Now I can say to the Azerbaijani people that there are no more suspicions on this.... There can be no more room for speculation.”
It was Erdogan's first visit to the Azeri capital since Ankara and Yerevan announced last month a "roadmap" to normalize ties, which would include reopening the Turkish-Armenian border, under heavy U.S. pressure. "It is obvious that Turkey doesn't feel the U.S. pressure anymore and is now feeling the pressure to reassure Azerbaijan," said Wolfango Piccoli, from Eurasia consultancy.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan shares linguistic and cultural ties with Turkey and fears reopening the border would weaken its hand in a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Erdogan urged the so-called Minsk group -- set up in 1992 and co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France – to speed up efforts to find a solution to Nagorno-Karabakh.