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Turkey Says Armenia Relations May Normalize In '09

Turkish President Abdullah Gul (right) with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, in Yerevan in November.
ISTANBUL (Reuters) -- Relations between Armenia and Turkey as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia could be normalized this year, state-run news agency Anatolian has reported Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan as saying.

"I can easily say we have never come this close to a plan regarding the final normalization of relations with Armenia," said Foreign Minister Babacan in an interview with NTV late on January 16.

The step up in diplomacy comes as Armenia may be eyed as a transit route for energy pipelines shipping oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, helping to make Turkey a key energy hub.

"It's not a dream, it's a realistic estimate to see the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as Turkey and Armenia," Babacan said.

Turkey closed its border with former Soviet Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population broke away from Azerbaijan in a war as the Soviet Union fell apart.

Turkey showed a willingness to step up diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between Ankara and Baku and Yerevan last year when President Abdullah Gul visited the Armenian capital for a soccer match between Turkey and Armenia.

The countries have also participated in three-way talks on normalizing relations.

Relations between the two have been strained by accusations Ottoman Turks committed genocide by killing ethnic Armenians in World War I.