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The International Herald Tribune - September 24, 2008 by Ali Baba├žan The conflict between Russia and Georgia has once again demonstrated the volatile character of the Caucasus and why it is so crucial for the world to defuse tensions there. This conflict has affected all the countries of the region. Azerbaijan and Armenia, for example, were deprived of their main transport routes. It raised concerns about prominent infrastructure projects such as the railroad connection between Baku, Tbilisi and Kars, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, which promise to ensure the long-term energy and transport security of the region and Europe. As a neighbor to the conflict, Turkey has an enormous stake in overcoming the tension between Russia and Georgia. On behalf of the European Union, France has taken a very active role in arranging a cease-fire, and President Nicolas Sarkozy's laudable efforts are fully supported by Turkey. To re-establish peace and stability in the Caucasus in the longer run, Turkey is also pursuing a series of diplomatic initiatives mainly based on three pillars. First, we have to recognize and address the profound lack of confidence among the states of the region. Russia and Georgia are at war with each other. The situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh is not much different. There are also problems between Turkey and Armenia. The lack of confidence in the region creates a fertile environment for breeding instability, insecurity and, as we have seen in Georgia, war. It also undermines political dialogue, economic cooperation and good-neighborly relations that Caucasian countries need to prosper. Furthermore, this tense situation has become more or less an inherent feature of the Caucasus in the last 17 years, since none of the previous attempts to resolve the protracted conflicts there have yielded any constructive outcomes. This situation has to be corrected quickly. The Caucasus countries need to develop a functional method of finding solutions to their problems from within. Turkey's proposal is to bring the countries of the region together under the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). In the interest of building confidence among these nations, Turkey believes it is time to pursue a regional but comprehensive approach. The CSCP, in that context, provides an opportunity. It does not intend to become an alternative to any institution, mechanism or any international organization that deals with the problems of the Caucasus. On the contrary, it is an additional platform to facilitate the communication between the countries of the region, a framework to develop stability, confidence and cooperation, a forum for dialogue. In this context, it is not only compatible with Turkey's EU policies but it also complements the EU's policies and vision toward the Caucasus region, namely the EU Neighborhood Policy. This complementary feature might bring a new impetus and a functional momentum to the region. Second, in order to become a genuine honest broker in the region, Turkey has taken the initiative to create a favorable environment for the normalization of its bilateral relations with Armenia. President Abdullah Gul visited Yerevan on Sept. 6 to watch the World Cup qualifier match between the Turkish and Armenian soccer teams. This was an historic first step to break the barriers that have prevented our two nations from getting closer to each other. During the visit to Yerevan, the Armenian and Turkish presidents extensively discussed the security situation in the Caucasus, the prospects for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and the ways and means to achieve such normalization in the nearest future. I also accompanied Gul and had an opportunity to review the same topics in a more expanded fashion with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. No doubt, as long as we talk, none of the problems of the region could impose themselves on us as unsolvable. Third, as the process of normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations moves ahead, we must not spare our efforts to find a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. These two processes have a mutually reinforcing character - any positive development on one would significantly have a stimulating effect on the other. Gul, after his visit to Yerevan, traveled to Baku on Sept. 10 to inquire whether Turkey could facilitate the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem. We observe the commitment in Baku, as well as in Yerevan, to bring a lasting solution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In this context, it is necessary once more to underline the importance of a constructive and comprehensive approach to resolving the problems in the Caucasus region. Turkey is a staunch advocate of the basic principles of international law such as independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states as well as peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue. With the initiatives that it has taken recently, Turkey seeks to bring stability and prosperity to the Caucasus region. CSCP can play a leading role in facilitating this outcome. A favorable environment for cooperation, harmony, confidence and mutual understanding will be achievable in the region only after the disputes and conflicts in the Caucasus are resolved peacefully and irrevocably. Ali Babacan is the foreign minister of Turkey.

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