ANKARA: Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian: ‘The Halfway Point Has


Sept 8 2008

Interview with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian by Hasan

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian began his remarks at
the business luncheon we had yesterday by saying: "We had a historic
day. History will write about this soccer diplomacy."

Nalbandian described the meeting of the Turkish and Armenian Presidents
Abdullah Gul and Serzh Sargsian and the national soccer game they
watched together on Saturday as a "historic day." He continued:

"We made a very, very good start."

Pointing out that people in both countries are undergoing a "change
of mentality" and that this visit has been welcome and led to "great
expectations," Nalbandian said:

"There will be positive developments from now on also. The necessary
will and desire to do this exist.

"We, the two foreign ministers, met at midnight on Saturday at the
instructions of our presidents. We talked for two and a half hours. We
will meet again some time this month. This demonstrates our resolve
and seriousness about developing bilateral relations."

Pointing out that the foreign ministers of the two countries will
continue the new "dialogue process" that was started by the two
presidents, Nalbandian said: "I believe that we will be discussing
concrete results with [Turkish Foreign Minister Ali] Babacan very

Cengiz Candar asked whether "demons" may intervene and spoil the
"dialogue process" if the said process stretches out without any
"concrete results." In a similar vein, I had asked Armenian President
Sargsyan on Saturday night what his most concrete and most near-term
expectations were in the aftermath of the game. Without any hesitation,
he underscored the following two points:

"The opening of the borders and the establishment of diplomatic ties."

When I reminded Nalbandian of these two points, he said in brief:

"The realization of these two points is also the expectation of the
Turkish side. The opening of the borders and the establishment of
diplomatic ties are, without doubt, in Turkey’s interests also. The
two presidents crossed the halfway point on this road on Saturday. The
foreign ministers will walk the remaining half. I can assure you that
we are discussing concrete steps with Mr Babacan. The faster we can
make progress the better. This is indeed our wish."

Nalbandian also said that he does not agree with certain opinions
that Russia does not want Turkey and Armenia to draw closer. He
said: "These are certain bumper sticker opinions. I do not think
that they are correct. Moscow also welcomes the improvement of
our relations. Turkish-Armenian relations must improve for the
establishment of stability and trust in our region."

Nalbandian implied without being explicit that the two foreign
ministers have a "road map," but he did not go into any details. He
referred to a decision of principle that certain issues will not
be shared with the public until results are obtained. He added

"We waited for too long at stops in the past. Now there should no
longer be any stops. Let us continue on our course without stopping,
without interruptions."

Noting that the attention of the entire world has been fixed on this
region since the recent developments in South Ossetia, Nalbandian
then turned to the dispute between his country and Azerbaijan over
Nagorno Karabakh. He said:

"The countries of the region as well as the world want problems
resolved by peaceful means rather than through the use of force. We
also favour this. A military solution is not a solution. Then the
situation becomes even worse. Intensive negotiations are under way
with Azerbaijan over the Karabakh problem. There is an opportunity. We
are on a very good course. I believe that we are close to a solution."

The return meet between the national soccer teams of Turkey and Armenia
will be played in Istanbul on 14 October. Commenting on that meet,
Nalbandian said:

"President Sargsyan will go to Istanbul to watch the game on 14
October. That will also be a historic visit like President Gul’s

The Armenian foreign minister said that it would not be right to
make the resolution of issues between the two countries, such as the
establishment of diplomatic ties or the opening of borders, contingent
upon "preconditions." Then he was asked: "We know that the subject
of genocide did not come up in the talks on Saturday. Might it come
up in the future?" Nalbandian replied:

"There must not be any subjects that are taboo. We must be able
to discuss any issue, any problem more openly, more candidly, and
more freely."

Attending the lunch meeting with Nalbandian yesterday were Hasan
Cemal from Milliyet, Cengiz Candar from Radikal, Ali Bayramoglu from
Yeni Safak, Mustafa Karaalioglu from Star, and Yavuz Baydar from
Sabah. Other points Nalbandian made at this meeting were:

"We support Turkey’s membership in the EU."

"Turkey’s trade [with Armenia] can easily rise to $1 billion as soon
as the borders are opened."

"We support the stability and peace pact Turkey has proposed for the
region 100 per cent."