The Turkish prime minister said that he told U.S. President Barack Obama that there would be no normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan until Armenia withdraws from Azerbaijani land. Do you think Erdogan was completely sincere when he said this to Azerbaijani journalists?
I think Erdogan is sincere about this linkage. This is because the pressure to link the two issues does not only come from Azerbaijan, but also from public and parliamentary opinion within Turkey and within the Justice and Development (AK) Party. The problem here might be coordination of policy with the U.S. as Turkish and American timeframes for normalization may not necessarily be the same.
Don’t you think that the US itself is pushing Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia before settling the Karabakh conflict?
The U.S. is working closely with all parties (including Azerbaijan) to achieve both the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There has not been an explicit U.S. policy of linking the two issues, but US diplomats are very cognizant of the importance of the link. The key for the U.S. in both processes is to have highest-level endorsement of progress on both issues – that is a statement of commitment from President Obama.
Do you think that the U.S. really supports the peacemaking activity of Turkey in the South Caucasus, or may there be an element of “jealousy” about the invasion of the region by a new power, Turkey?
Overall, the U.S. sees Turkey’s role in the Caucasus as a positive one. There is some justifiable wariness about Ankara’s close relationship with Moscow and about the alignment of U.S. and Turkish interests in the Caucasus – they are not always the same. But, I don’t think the U.S. sees Turkey as a competitor in the region – not yet.
Do you believe that the Karabakh conflict will be settled soon, probably in 2010?
I think we are closer to a settlement now than we have ever been. It would not be surprising if we saw the beginning of conflict resolution in 2010. This should be welcomed by all parties and could potentially transform the region for the better. But, the most difficult move in this process comes from Yerevan. It is a major risk for Sargsyan to move forward on relations with Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh resolution at the same time. He is risking his political future and Armenia’s relationship with its diaspora. But I am hopeful that we will see progress on both Armenian relations with Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh resolution this year.