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Black Sea Talks Under Way In Istanbul

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is presiding over today's meeting (AFP) June 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A summit of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation is under way in Istanbul.

Leaders of 12 countries in the wider Black Sea region are due to discuss projects aimed at boosting economic cooperation and trade.

The summit marks the 15th anniversary of the grouping, which was founded following the collapse of the Soviet Union with an aim to promote stability and economic ties in the region.

High on the group's agenda today are plans to develop transportation infrastructure, including a proposal to build a 7,500-kilometer ring road along the Black Sea coast. The group will also seek to reduce trade barriers.

Turkey, which currently chairs the BSEC, says it wants to give the organization new momentum.

Territorial Disputes

The meeting, however, is overshadowed by territorial disputes including the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and between Russia and Moldova over Transdniester.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul held a rare -- and brief -- meeting on the sidelines of the conference to discuss their troubled relations.

Armenia, which has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, is the only country to send its foreign minister to the BSEC summit instead of its president.

Turkey refuses to establish relations with Armenia because of Yerevan's attempts to get the mass killing of Armenians during World War I recognized internationally as genocide.

A scheduled meeting between the Russian and Georgian foreign ministers was being watched closely, following a published report that Georgia would use the opportunity to discuss its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The Russian daily "Kommersant" today cited an unidentified "source in the Georgian government" as saying Georgia would seek to convince Russia to give up its support for South Ossetian secessionist leader Eduard Kokoity. In exchange, according to the source, Georgia would be willing to support Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.

An RFE/RL correspondent covering the summit said ahead of the meeting that neither side had commented officially on the issue.

The BSEC includes the six countries on the Black Sea -- Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine -- plus neighboring Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova, and Serbia.


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