Erdogan meets leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan at Europe summit

Leaders of 43 countries are meeting for inaugural gathering in Prague

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, chats with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Informal EU 27 Summit and Meeting within the European Political Community in Prague, Czech Republic October 6, 2022.  Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.  NO RESALES.  NO ARCHIVES.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday held talks with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan at a European summit.

Mr Erdogan, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met before the 43-nation summit began in Prague.

It comes weeks after dozens of troops were killed in border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have fought two wars over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The leaders were joined by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French President Emmanuel Macron, who first proposed the pan-European format in May.

Turkey and Azerbaijan are close allies. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia were among dozens of countries invited to join Mr Macron’s European Political Community, in a bid to show a united front to Russia at a time of war in Ukraine.

A Turkish bid to join the European Union has stalled for decades amid disputes over migration and other issues, but the new forum is meant as a less formal way of bringing countries into the fold.

Mr Erdogan was expected to “convey Turkey’s views, contributions and assessments regarding the challenges Europe is currently faced with in terms of peace and security, energy, climate and economic situation”, his office said.

It said he would hold several bilateral meetings. The summit at Prague Castle was arranged so that leaders would have plenty of time for two-way talks and informal discussions, as well as meeting as a group of 43.

Mr Erdogan, who has positioned himself as a mediator in the war in Ukraine overshadowing the summit, was expected to brief journalists later on Thursday.

While Mr Erdogan has pushed for peace talks in Ukraine, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told leaders in an opening session in Prague that “we all know in our hearts that Ukraine will win”.

Azerbaijan, a gas producer whose energy exports are in demand in Europe, recently signed an agreement with the EU to work together on fuel efficiency and clean power.

European Council President Charles Michel, one of the organisers of the Prague summit, and an EU special representative have been trying to broker a de-escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turkish leader opposes Sweden's Nato bid and takes aim at Greek 'lies'

Mr Erdogan said that Turkey would continue to oppose Sweden's Nato membership bid until its demands were met for a tougher Swedish stance against "terrorist organisations".

"As long as terrorist organisations demonstrate on Swedish streets and terrorists are present in their Parliament, our approach to the issue will not be positive," he said outside the meeting.

Mr Erdogan also said there was nothing worth discussing with Greece at the moment.

"They are not where they are supposed to be," he said. "Their entire policy is based on lies, they are not honest. We have nothing to discuss with Greece."

Mr Erdogan said Athens understood Ankara's message when Turkish officials have said "we may suddenly arrive one night" — a comment that Greek and some other western officials have condemned as a threat to a neighbouring state.

He said on Thursday that he could meet Syrian President Bashar Al Assad when the time was right and would not rule that out, reinforcing recent steps to thaw ties between combatants in Syria's war.

"As of now such a meeting is not on the agenda but I cannot say it is impossible for me to meet with Assad," Mr Erdogan said.

"When the right time comes, we can also go the way of meeting with the President of Syria."

A normalisation between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decade-long Syrian war.

Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining Syrian rebels in their last major territorial foothold in the north-west, after Mr Al Assad defeated the insurgency across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran.

On the sidelines of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Mr Erdogan to push back against attempts to dodge sanctions imposed on Russia over its war in Ukraine.

Mr Macron "underlined the importance of the European sanctions regimes in stopping Russia's escalation, and called to fight any circumvention strategies", the French presidency said.

There has been concern in Europe and the US that Turkey, which has not imposed sanctions on Moscow, is being used as a haven for those looking to avoid the western measures.

Turkish trade with Russia has exploded during the war in Ukraine, to growing irritation from Washington, which worries that Russian oligarchs and big businesses are using Turkish entities to evade sanctions.

Ankara last month bowed to pressure from the US by confirming that the last three banks still processing Russian card payments were pulling the plug.

The decision followed weeks of increasingly blunt warnings from Washington for Nato member Turkey to limit its economic relations with Russia or face the threat of sanctions.

The EU on Friday imposed an eighth wave of sanctions on Russia in the latest battery of its economic punishment of Moscow since the invasion in February.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 10:20 PM