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Baku, Ankara and soccer diplomacy

April 10, 2009 at 4:38 PM

ANKARA, Turkey, April 10 (UPI) -- Washington's effort at restoring diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia faces derailment without support from Azerbaijan.

U.S. President Barack Obama phoned his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, during a visit to Ankara earlier in the week in an effort to smooth over regional rancor.

At stake are outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding disputes over Nagorno-Karabakh and historical acrimony between Armenia and Turkey from the Armenian massacres under the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Apart from regional concerns, Azerbaijan sits as a major energy hub, hosting the Shah Deniz gas field, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and possibly the planned Nabucco pipeline to Europe, all key interests of Ankara.

Baku, however, issued harsh statements in response to a Turkish decision to consider reopening the border with Armenia, saying the proposal was a blow to Turkish-Azeri relations.

Government officials told Today's Zaman that Turkey plans to open the border in October in time for a World Cup qualifying match with Armenia, giving Ankara the time needed to placate any concerns from Baku.

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