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Armenia Says Deal With Turkey Could Be Reached Soon

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian is hopeful that a deal between Armenia and Turkey is imminent
YEREVAN (Reuters) -- Armenia said on April 16 it was close to establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey after a century of hostility, but Turkish ally Azerbaijan stressed its opposition.

High-level talks between Ankara and Yerevan began last year and expectations have been rising of a deal that could include Turkey opening its border with Armenia. Turkey hopes a deal on Armenia will improve its chances of joining the European Union.

"The negotiations are ongoing and progress has been registered," Edward Nalbandian, the Armenian foreign minister, told reporters during a Black Sea economic conference attended by his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan.

"We think we can really get close and resolve this question in the near future."

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its traditional Muslim ally Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey and Armenia trace their own dispute to the First World War killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, which Armenia describes as genocide. But diplomats say Turkish concern over the potential backlash in Azerbaijan could yet delay the deal.

Oil And Gas

Azerbaijan, a supplier of oil and gas to Europe, insists any deal between Turkey and Armenia can only follow concessions from Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh, where a fragile ceasefire holds but a peace accord has never been signed.

Speaking to reporters on his plane to Yerevan, Babacan said: "We want a comprehensive solution and full normalisation. We want a solution based on a wide perspective."

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this month the deadlock over Nagorno-Karabakh should be resolved before any deal is struck between Turkey and Armenia.

Western diplomats are concerned that Azerbaijan, in retaliation for the border reopening, might be unwilling to sell its gas in future through Turkey to Europe, and instead send most of it to Russia for re-export.

"Our position is the following -- the establishment of relations between Armenia and Turkey can be connected only with the resolving of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad-Guliev said in Yerevan.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was in Moscow on April 16, three weeks after Azerbaijani state energy firm Socar signed a memorandum with Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom about starting talks on Russia buying Azerbaijani gas for export to Europe from 2010.

Both the EU and U.S. President Barack Obama, during a visit to Turkey last week, have urged Turkey to normalise ties with Armenia.