Turkish PM doubts on Armenia deal

ANKARA: Turkey's prime minister cast doubt Sunday on landmark deals signed with Armenia to end decades of hostility, seeming to pose conditions on the opening of their common border.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments came less than a day after top US and European officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, engaged in frenetic diplomacy to help Armenia and Turkey overcome last-minute differences.

The two countries eventually signed historic pacts to normalise ties and open the border at a ceremony in Zurich Saturday, but not before a three-hour delay and a decision to scrap speeches that were to be made there because of a dispute over them.

At a meeting of officials from his party on Sunday, Erdogan raised concerns over the disputed Nagorny-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, which has long been one of the stumbling blocks toward reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

"We want all the borders to be opened at the same time..., but as long as Armenia has not withdrawn from Azerbaijani territory that it is occupying, Turkey cannot have a positive attitude on this subject," Erdogan said.

Armenia has rejected any link between Nagorny-Karabakh -- an Armenian-majority enclave which broke free from Turkish-backed Azerbaijan after a war -- and its reconciliation efforts with Turkey.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to support Azerbaijan.

Erdogan maintained that he would submit the signed pacts to normalise relations and open the shared border with Armenia to his country's parliament, but warned of potential problems.

"We are going to transmit the protocols signed yesterday by our foreign minister to parliament, but our deputies, in order to ratify them, are undoubtedly going to ask about the Armenian-Azerbaijani question," he said.

"If Azerbaijan and Armenia begin to look for a resolution to their problems, public opinion here will have a greater appreciation of the normalisation of Turkey-Armenia relations. And that will facilitate the ratification of the protocols by parliament."

The deals, which must be approved by both countries' parliaments, are aimed at ending decades of hostility over the World War-I era mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule.

Turkey had long refused to establish diplomatic links with Armenia over Yerevan's efforts to have the massacres recognised as genocide -- a label Turkey strongly rejects.

An Armenian diplomat said Sunday that the delay in signing the deals the previous day was sparked by Ankara's intention of raising the genocide issue.

But Nagorny-Karabakh has long posed problems as well.

The complex diplomacy linked to it was evident on Sunday, when Azerbaijan slammed Turkey for agreeing to normalise ties with Armenia.

It also warned that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border could cause instability in the volatile South Caucasus.

The bridge-building by the two countries after more than a year of Swiss-mediated talks faces fierce opposition from critics at home, even though both the Turkish and Armenian governments can command parliamentary majorities.

Western countries have pushed for reconciliation between them.

Clinton joined EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at Saturday's ceremony in a public show of support.