U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held separate talks, also on the margins of the nuclear security summit hosted by Obama, with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The latter also met with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, in what both sides described as a follow-up to Monday’s talks between Sarkisian and Erdogan.
The intensive negotiations seem to have failed to bring the two sides closer to normalizing bilateral relations in accordance with the Turkish-Armenian “protocols” signed in October. Ankara makes their implementation conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.
Erdogan reaffirmed this linkage after talks with Obama. The official Turkish Anatolia news agency quoted him as telling journalists that Turkey will not open its border with Armenia as long as the Karabakh dispute remains unresolved. He also dismissed Armenian arguments that neither protocol makes any reference to Karabakh peace.
Nalbandian insisted that this stance runs counter to the letter and spirit of the protocols. “If Turkey has changed its position, then we must draw appropriate conclusions on whether there are partners on the [Turkish] side with whom we can continue the process,” he told Armenian journalists in Washington.
Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders have repeatedly threatened to walk away from the protocols if the Turks fail to ratify them “within a reasonable time frame.” Sarkisian said before departing to the U.S. capital that Yerevan has all but decided what to do next in the stalled normalization process. “We will submit our decision to the public some time later, when we become fully convinced that it is the right one,” he said.
In Nalbandian’s words, the Washington negotiations “have borne out our conclusions regarding the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process.” Sarkisian will publicize them at the “right time,” he said without elaborating.
The White House issued no statements on Obama’s 45-minute conversation with Erdogan. The Turkish daily “Milliyet” reported on Wednesday that the U.S. president told Erdogan that “the process with Armenia should be accelerated” and that Ankara should take relevant steps “as soon as possible.”
According to another leading Turkish daily, “Hurriyet,” Obama also assured him that the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group will step up their efforts to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders have repeatedly praised Washington for favoring a quick and unconditional ratification of the protocols.
Davutoglu and Nalbandian discussed the matter during a working lunch hosted by Clinton for fellow foreign ministers attending the Washington summit. “Their conversation was focused on the continuation of yesterday's discussions of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Turkish Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It gave no further details.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley spoke of a “critical time” in the stalled normalization process as he commented on Clinton’s talks with Davutoglu to the official Turkish Anatolia news agency. Crowley was quoted as calling the talks “very positive.” He did not elaborate.
U.S. pressure on Turkey over the Turkish-Armenian protocols is thought to have increased since the March 4 decision by a U.S. congressional committee to approve a resolution describing the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Ankara has scrambled to prevent the resolution’s passage by the full House of Representatives and hopes that Obama will not honor his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Speaking to CNN after the meeting with Obama, Erdogan expressed confidence that the U.S. president will not use the word “genocide” in his upcoming April 24 statement on the 95th anniversary of the start of the mass killings and deportations.
Sarkisian, meanwhile, met on Tuesday with one of the key sponsors of the latest genocide resolution, congressman Adam Schiff. Sarkisian’s office said he thanked the California Democrat for his long-running efforts at U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide.