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Turkey 'Should Not Link' Armenia Thaw To Karabakh: Negotiator

ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey should not link its efforts to normalize ties with Armenia to a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a French negotiator has said.

Ankara and Yerevan have been engaged for months in high-level talks aimed at establishing diplomatic relations after a century of hostility and last month announced a "road map" to reopen their borders.

But after Turkey's Muslim ally Azerbaijan condemned the reconciliation moves, Ankara said there would be no progress until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was resolved.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan, which fought a war with ethnic Armenian separatists in the 1990s over the Caucasus enclave.

Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev during a visit to Baku that Turkey would not open the border with Armenia until the "occupation" of Nagorno-Karabakh ended.

"Normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute are two separate processes which should continue in parallel but along their own paths," the French Embassy in Ankara said in a statement after a visit earlier this week by Bernard Fassier, a co-chairman of the Minsk Group.

The Minsk Group -- set up in 1992 and co-chaired by Russia, the United States, and France -- is seeking a solution to Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the most intractable conflicts arising from the Soviet Union's collapse.

A thaw between Turkey and Armenia, who trace their dispute to the mass killing of Christian Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I, would shore up stability in the Caucasus and boost Turkey's drive to join the European Union.

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Ankara and Yerevan to reach a solution soon, but Turkey has been careful not to harm energy projects with Azerbaijan.

The two countries, which share linguistic and cultural ties, are in talks to sign energy deals, including the purchase of Azeri gas which could be used for the planned Nabucco pipeline to transport Caspian gas to Europe.