According to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phillip Gordon, President Barack Obama conveyed the same message to his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in a phone conversation earlier this month.
“We believe that the implementation of these protocols – leading to diplomatic ties and open borders – would be a historic development that would benefit both countries and contribute to security and economic prosperity throughout the region,” Gordon said on Wednesday in a lecture on U.S.-Turkish relations delivered at the Brookings Institution, a liberal U.S. think-tank.
“We appreciate the effort that has been made so far and urge both countries to ratify the protocols without preconditions and as soon as possible, a point President Obama made on the phone to President Gul just two weeks ago,” he said. “Let us not squander the historic progress already made.
“Ratification will bring valuable benefits to both Turkey and Armenia. All who are invested in the process must do their part to ensure that it moves forward.”
The appeal seemed primarily addressed to Turkey, which has made protocol ratification conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and a halt to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the Armenian genocide. Armenian leaders reject these “preconditions.”
“We are ready to continue this process and move forward, but that will also depend on the Turkish side,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told journalists in Yerevan on Thursday. Asked whether the Turkish-Armenian normalization process is now in deadlock, he said: “Time will tell.”
In that regard, Nalbandian strongly condemned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats to deport thousands of illegal Armenian migrants from Turkey in retaliation for resolutions passed by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers defining World War One-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
“This is unacceptable, and it is undoubtedly damaging the process of normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations,” he said. “Such statements show that Turkey is not quite ready to move forward.”
Nalbandian likened Erdogan’s threats to Turkish rhetoric that preceded the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians. “The 1915 events related to the genocide of Armenia began with such statements,” he said.
The Turkish premier also came under fire at home. "Treating innocent Armenian workers as bargaining chips as if they were hostages is grave enough to add a new example to the centuries-old accusations against Turkey," commentator Can Dundar wrote in the “Milliyet” daily.
Erdogan's threats are likely to further strain the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, Hadi Uluengin wrote in the “Hurriyet” daily. "Neither Armenia nor its influential Diaspora will leave such a Turkish threat unanswered... Erdogan's threat has harmed our diplomatic prestige," he said, according to AFP news agency.
Gordon, meanwhile, reaffirmed the Obama administration’s opposition to a genocide resolution approved by U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4. “Further Congressional action could impede progress on the normalization of relations and for that reason we oppose this resolution,” he said.
Speaking to journalists ahead of his speech at the Brookings Institution, Gordon contradicted earlier State Department claims that the administration and Democratic congressional leaders have agreed to block the measure condemned by Ankara. “Congress is an independent body and they are going to do what they decide to do,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Some observers believe that Washington is using the prospect of U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide in its efforts to get Ankara to ratify the agreements. Turkish leaders are also worried that Obama might use the word “genocide” in his upcoming April 24 statement on what is known as Armenian Remembrance Day in the United States.