The United States will continue to sponsor people-to-people contacts between Armenia and Turkey in the hope of facilitating the eventual normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, John Heffern, said on Wednesday.
Heffern also reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for the unconditional implementation of the normalization protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan two years ago.
“We are committed to promoting reconciliation between the two countries in all sectors and will continue to do that as long as we can,” he said in concluding remarks at a Turkish-Armenian business conference held in Yerevan.
The two-day conference attended by more than 120 entrepreneurs from both countries was organized as part of a project to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. The project is financed by the U.S. government’s Agency For International Development (USAID).
Heffern spoke of a “political message” sent by the forum. “And the political message is that reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia is still our goal,” he said.
“You speak for many people in both countries and your sponsorship and your support for the protocols and for reconciliation and for ties and opening the border between Turkey and Armenia is critical to make that happen,” Heffern told the businesspeople.
He said similar contacts between students, journalists, teachers and other professionals, which have for years been sponsored by the U.S. government, are also important for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. But he stressed that the Turkish-Armenian protocols remain “the primary way” to improve the strained relations between the two nations.
“The United States supports the protocols, unconditional protocols, not linked to any other issue,” added the diplomat.
The protocols were signed in Zurich in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They commit Ankara and Yerevan to establishing diplomatic relations and opening the Turkish-Armenian border.
Shortly after the signing ceremony Ankara made clear that the Turkish parliament will not ratify the protocols before decisive progress in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan welcomed this precondition.
Sarkisian responded by freezing the process of protocol ratification by Armenia’s parliament in April 2010. He threatened to scrap the deal altogether earlier this year.
Clinton reportedly pressed the Turkish government to honor the deal during a visit to Istanbul this summer. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have continued to make that conditional on a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan.