“The two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding in this process and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner,” the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries said in a joint statement. “In this context, a road-map has been identified.”
“This agreed basis provides a positive prospect for the on-going process,” the statement said. It did not specify whether that process can be completed before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Associated Press quoted a senior Turkish government official as saying that the agreement does not mean Turkey is ready to open the Turkish-Armenian border, closed in 1993. "It is out of question," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We don't want to make any more further comment than what is said in the statement,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry source told Reuters. “We will continue with our policy of silent diplomacy. The time has not come yet to make announcements on specifics nor on timelines."
The Armenian Foreign Ministry also declined to provide clarifications. A ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said only that the roadmap includes “steps to be taken” by the two governments.
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stated this month that Turkish-Armenian relations will not be normalized as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Azerbaijan expressed hope on Thursday that Ankara will stick to this precondition.
“It is the sovereign right of every state to determine its relations with other countries,” Elkhan Polukhov, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, told Day.az, commenting on the Turkish-Armenian statement. “Nonetheless, Azerbaijan believes that the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey should run parallel to the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
The United States swiftly welcomed the agreement announced by the two troubled neighbors. “It has long been and remains the position of the United States that normalization should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe," U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.
“We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed according to the agreed framework and roadmap,” Wood said. “We look forward to working with both governments in support of normalization, and thus promote peace, security and stability in the whole region."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likewise reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for the Turkish-Armenian dialogue when she spoke at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier on Wednesday. “The Turkish and Armenian governments have sought U.S. support and encouragement of their reconciliation efforts,” she said. “And following that request, both the president and I have supported them fully.”
Clinton also implied that the U.S. is trying to neutralize the strong Azerbaijani objections to the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement by intensifying its efforts to broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict. “We've sent a State Department official to Azerbaijan, I think two times in the last three weeks, and we hope that there will be some resolution in the next months,” she said.
The agreement was made public just one day before Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora will mark 94th anniversary of the start of mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Ankara has made no secret of its hopes that the dramatic rapprochement with Yerevan will deter U.S. President Barack Obama from describing the deaths of more than one million Armenians as genocide in his April 24 address to the Armenian-American community.
Obama is facing mounting pressure from the influential community and its backers in the U.S. Congress to honor his election campaign pledge to recognize, in his present capacity, what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century. Among those lawmakers are Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader.
"It is long past the time for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide," Pelosi was reported to say on Wednesday during a genocide remembrance ceremony on Capitol Hill attended by dozens of her colleagues.
Pelosi urged Armenian-American groups to step up their grassroots campaign for the passage of a draft genocide resolution introduced in Congress last month. “We can do any amount of inside maneuvering in the Congress and Washington, but what is important is the outside mobilization to bring to bear the voices of people across America," she said, according to the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Obama administration has not reacted to the bill yet. Visiting Turkey earlier this month, the U.S. president made clear that while he continues to believe that the Armenian massacres constituted a genocide he will not utter the politically sensitive term because that could undermines the ongoing Turkish-Armenian talks. He said those talks “could bear fruit very soon.”