U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned President Serzh Sarkisian late on Monday to discuss with him prospects for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, a major U.S. policy goal in the region.
A short statement by Sarkisian’s office said the two men spoke “at the initiative of the American side.” “Issues related to the process of the Turkish-Armenian political dialogue were discussed during the telephone conversation,” it said without elaborating. Biden’s office issued no statements on the phone call.
Both the current and previous U.S. administrations have strongly supported and welcomed the thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations that began shortly after Sarkisian took office in April 2008. President Barack Obama urged the two neighboring states to complete their fence-mending talks when he visited Turkey earlier this month. The talks are “moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly, very soon,” he said.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since sought to end talk of an impending Turkish-Armenian agreement, saying that Turkey will not establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. His statements followed an uproar in Azerbaijan whose government has warned Ankara against normalizing ties with Yerevan before a Karabakh settlement.
Turkish officials avoided linking the two issues until recently, saying that the dialogue with the Armenians can only be set back by a possible Obama statement terming the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a genocide. While in Ankara, Obama stood by his earlier recognition of the genocide but avoided using the politically sensitive term, citing the need not to undermine the normalization process. It is still not clear whether he will use the word in his message to the Armenian-American community expected during the April 24 annual commemoration of more than one million Armenians killed from 1915-1918.
Like Obama, Biden pledged to ensure an official U.S. recognition of the genocide during the U.S. presidential race. As a ranking member of the U.S. Senate, Biden was for years a staunch backer of corresponding congressional resolutions drafted by Armenian-American lobbying groups.
One such draft resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives last month. The White House has yet to react to it.