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Armenian President Uses Soccer Match In Political Bargain

Football fans at the Armenia-Turkey match in Yerevan in September 2008
YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian says that he will not accept Turkish President Abdullah Gul's invitation to watch the two countries' soccer teams play in Turkey unless Ankara takes steps to open the Turkish-Armenian border, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian said on July 28 that he will not leave for Turkey "unless we have an open border or stand on the brink of lifting Armenia's blockade."

The move reflects mounting frustration over months of fence-mending negotiations during which Turkey went back and forth on establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia and reopening the border.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders said in recent months that the Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, despite unveiling a "road map" to Turkish-Armenian normalization in April.

The two countries' so-called "football diplomacy" kicked off in September, when Sarkisian and Gul made history by attending the Turkey-Armenia game in Yerevan.