Washington briefing: U.S. and Russia detail their roles in Armenia-Turkey deal

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday October 17, 2009

Clinton and Lavrov express consternation at joint press conference in Moscow on Oct. 13. Russian Foreign Ministry

Reports by U.S. and Russian officials played up their respective interventions as decisive in getting Armenia and Turkey to sign the protocols on bilateral relations.

The October 10 signing in Zurich, Switzerland, of the protocols, which require parliamentary ratification to take effect, was delayed by several hours after Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers Edward Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu took issue with each other's proposed post-signing statements.

En route from Zurich to London later that night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that she and Assistant Secretary for Europe Phil Gordon "have been dealing with [Armenia-Turkey issues] for months."

The United States initially had claimed no public role, with Switzerland serving as the formal mediator.

Mrs. Clinton said she was on the phone with the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers "to get everybody in the same place." She also talked to President Barack Obama "several times."

"So that's when I went in and spent time talking through some of the concerns that had been expressed, and brought Minister Nalbandian with us back to the university," with other senior officials arriving there for the delayed signing ceremony.

Meanwhile, citing an unnamed source in "one of the delegations," the Russian daily Kommersant gave credit for "saving the day" to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"While Secretary Clinton was trying to convince the sides to avoid a scandal, Lavrov, [European Union foreign affairs commissioner] Javier Solana, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and Slovenian Foreign Minister [present on behalf of Council of Europe] Samuel Zbogar were watching the Russia-Germany soccer game."

When the game was over, the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers were presented with an ultimatum and a deadline to sign, Kommersant claimed.

"At that moment Mr. Lavrov wrote a short note to Mr. Nalbandian. It had six words ‘Edward! Agree to ceremony without statements,'" Kommersant's source reported. "The note was also co-signed by Kouchner, Solana, and Zbogar."

The signing ceremony went ahead in silence, concluding with hugs, kisses, and no comments.

Turkish leaders have since said they did not expect ratification any time soon. Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that ratification is "going to be difficult."

"There is a lot of very difficult, complex issues that have to continually be discussed and worked out," she said following the signing. "The Armenians, as we saw with President [Serge] Sargsian's tour, have people around the world with strong feelings."

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