U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Turkey to unconditionally comply with its normalization agreements with Armenia during a weekend trip to Istanbul.
A senior State Department official said Turkish-Armenian relations were on the agenda of her talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“She encouraged Turkey to support and move the [Turkish-Armenian] protocols, which have been stuck in the Turkish parliament, but more generally to reach out to Armenia with confidence-building measures and do whatever possible to strengthen that relationship, leading ultimately to restored diplomatic ties,” the official told journalists.
The two protocols were signed, in Clinton’s presence, by the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers in Zurich in October 2009. They committed the two neighboring nations to establish diplomatic relation and open the Turkish-Armenian border which Ankara closed in 1993 in a show of support for Azerbaijan.
The Turkish government has repeatedly made clear that it will not ensure the protocols’ ratification by Turkey’s parliament before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Baku. Yerevan rejects this linkage, saying that it contradicts the letter and the spirit of the U.S.-backed agreements.
Citing the Turkish precondition, President Serzh Sarkisian suspended the process of Armenian parliamentary ratification of the protocols in April 2009. But he stopped short of formally annulling them.
Clinton welcomed this stance as “very statesmanlike” when she visited Yerevan in July 2010. “The ball is in the other court,” she said, urging the Turks to drop the Karabakh linkage.
Nevertheless, Erdogan and other Turkish officials have continued to make normal relations with Armenia contingent on Karabakh peace. In a sign of Yerevan’s growing frustration with this stance, Sarkisian threatened to scrap the protocols altogether earlier this year.
The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations has long been a U.S. policy goal in the region. The State Department official who briefed U.S. journalists on Clinton’s talks in Istanbul described it as a “historic project.”