US official says opening Turkey border w/Armenia would bring benefit

Associated Press Worldstream
March 26, 2004 Friday 1:48 PM Eastern Time

U.S. official says opening Turkey’s border with Armenia would bring

by AVET DEMOURIAN; Associated Press Writer

A top U.S. diplomat said in Armenia on Friday that if Turkey opened
its border with this ex-Soviet republic, the benefits would be swift
and plentiful – a view at odds with Azerbaijan’s warning this week
against such a move.

“It seems to me that the opening of the border between Armenia and
Turkey would benefit the peoples of both sides rather dramatically
and rather quickly,” said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage,
during a visit to the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave,
which Armenian forces seized from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. A
1994 cease-fire has largely held, but no final settlement has been

Turkey, which is allied with Azerbaijan, has maintained a trade
embargo against neighboring Armenia, and has pledged not to lift it
until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is settled. Azerbaijan views that
embargo as a key part of its negotiating leverage.

But in recent years Turkey and Armenia have expanded business
contacts, and settling the dispute would boost Turkey’s candidacy to
join the European Union.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev warned this week that opening the
border would make the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh impossible, and
he urged Turkey to resist what he called strong pressure.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage refused to comment
directly on Aliev’s statement.

He said that the United States has discussed the issue with Turkey.

“I think to be fair, our Turkish friends have had their hands full
recently with concerns about northern Iraq and the ongoing Cyprus
talks, but I hope as those concerns are ameliorated that they will be
able to turn their attention to the reopening of the border,”
Armitage said.

He also warned that the solution to Nagorno-Karabakh can’t “be
imposed from top-down, from the outside.”