U.S. President Barack Obama has defended an unconditional normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey in a phone call with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev, who is strongly opposed to such prospect.
The two leaders spoke late Tuesday after Obama ended a two-day visit to Turkey during which he urged Ankara and Yerevan to complete talks aimed at establishing diplomatic relations between the two neighbors and reopening their land border.
“The President had a good conversation with President Aliev,” the White House said in a statement. “He reaffirmed U.S commitment to a strong relationship with Azerbaijan and to supporting progress toward a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“The President also underscored the importance of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, which will lead to greater peace and security in the region,” added the statement.
Aliev’s office also said that Turkish-Armenian relations were high on the agenda of the “frank conversation.” “Barack Obama informed the Azerbaijani leader about steps taken by the United States concerning Turkey-Armenia relations,” it said in a statement. “President Ilham Aliev brought the Azerbaijani state's position on the issue to the U.S. president's attention.”
Azerbaijani leaders have expressed serious concern at reports that Armenia and Turkey are close to normalizing their historically strained relations after months of high-level negotiations. Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov warned last week that Ankara will act against the national interests of its closest Turkic ally if it reopens the Turkish-Armenian border before a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The current Turkish government’s apparent readiness to stop linking improved ties with Armenia to Karabakh reportedly led Aliev to cancel his participation in a UN-sponsored international conference held in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday.
Obama spoke with the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers on the sidelines of the conference and, according to a senior U.S. official quoted by Western news agencies, urged them to “complete an agreement with dispatch.” Addressing the Turkish parliament earlier on Monday, the U.S. president made a case for an open border between the two estranged nations.
According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” Obama and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian held a bilateral meeting before being joined by Foreign Ministers Ali Babacan of Turkey and Micheline Calmy-Rey of Switzerland. The Armenian Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment on this report on Wednesday. It is also unclear whether Nalbandian and Babacan held talks in a tête-à-tête format in Istanbul.
Nalbandian insisted on Sunday that the Karabakh dispute has not been on the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian negotiations and said statements to the contrary made by Turkish leaders could undermine the ongoing dialogue. He appeared to react to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Friday remark that "as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is not resolved, it is not possible for us to reach a healthy solution concerning Armenia."