Turkish PM, Armenian president to talk reconciliation at Washington nuclear security summit

By Desmond Butler, AP
Friday, April 9, 2010

Turkey, Armenia to discuss ties in Washington

WASHINGTON — Turkey hopes that a rare face-to-face meeting between its prime minister and Armenia’s president in Washington next week could revive stalled efforts to normalize relations between the longtime adversaries.

Turkey’s ambassador to Washington Namik Tan told The Associated Press Friday that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Armenian President Serge Sarkisian would discuss the stalled talks on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama Monday and Tuesday.

Tan returned to Washington Tuesday after being recalled to Ankara last month in protest at a step by the U.S. Congress toward declaring the Ottoman-era killing of Armenians a genocide. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representative’s passed a resolution declaring the killings genocide, but it is unclear whether the full House will vote on it.

Tan said that he came back after assurances by the Obama administration that it would oppose the congressional action and not itself label the killings genocide.

“We received some satisfactory messages,” Tan said. “I hope there will be a new chapter.”

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The Obama administration must decide whether to label the killings a genocide in an annual statement this month on the day marking remembrance of the killing. It has opposed the resolution because it could upset the historic talks between Turkey and Armenia. The two countries signed agreements for reconciliation in October, but the deals still need to be approved by their parliaments. The agreements call for the establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of their border.

The agreement, if ratified, would reopen the border Turkey closed in 1993 to protest Armenia’s war with neighboring Azerbaijan. The Turkish parliament has held up ratification of the deal as Turkey presses for a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a region in Azerbaijan that has been under Armenian control since the war.

Erdogan is also expected to meet with Obama while in Washington at a time other sensitive issues are bubbling up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled a trip to the nuclear summit. His government said the trip was called off because he believed that Turkey and other governments attending planned to make an issue of Israel’s nuclear program.

Tan denied this.

“We don’t have any such thing in our agenda,” he said.

Erdogan is also likely to come under pressure from Obama to vote in favor of new sanctions against Iran at the United Nation’s security council. Turkey is currently one of the rotating members of the council, but has opposed sanctions against an important neighbor.

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