Sargsyan to meet Erdogan during Washington summit

Turkey recalibrates U.S., Armenia line on eve of April 24

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Wednesday April 07, 2010

Armenian and Turkish leaders held their only meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2009. Armenian president’s office

Washington - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has requested a meeting with President Serge Sargsyan as the two leaders plan to arrive in the United States for April 12 summit on nuclear security organized by President Barack Obama.

The request was conveyed to Armenia by Feridun Sinirlioglu, the number two official in the Turkish foreign ministry who arrived in Yerevan on April 7 and was received by President Sargsyan. Mr. Sargsyan has agreed to meet.

Coming shortly before April 24, the Armenian Genocide commemoration day and second commemorative statement by President Obama , such meeting is likely to be controversial.

As presidential candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly pledged to recognize the Genocide if elected.

In his April 24 statement last year, Pres. Obama implicitly reiterated the pledge but he did not use the term Genocide as Armenia and Turkey appeared to be making progress towards an agreement; a process that has since stalled.

The mere fact of a fresh meeting between Armenia and Turkish leaders is bound to be interpreted as a sign of progress in normalization process, even if it is unlikely to produce tangible results.

Turkey demands guarantees

The Turkish invitation came after a number of tense verbal exchanges between Turkey and Armenia, as well as Turkish and U.S. officials.

U.S. has encouraged Turkey to ratify the protocols it signed with Armenia last October, but Turkish officials condition ratification on an end of the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign and Armenian compromises over Karabakh - two pre-conditions that were not part of the October agreement and that Armenia rejects. Ankara's return to pre-conditions has provoked charges of bad faith.

Last month, Turkey recalled its Ambassador to U.S. after a congressional committee adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide.

Initially Turkish officials demanded that U.S. "guarantee" that there would be no further consideration of the resolution in U.S. Congress.

Speaking on March 17 at Brookings Institution Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon said that no such guarantees could be given even though the Administration had spoken out against the resolution.

A day earlier, in a statement widely criticized in Turkish media and elsewhere, the Turkish leader threatened to expel Armenian citizens working in Turkey, as retaliation for the resolution. Mr. Erdogan also indicated that he would turn down Mr. Obama's invitation to the Washington summit.

And as recently as March 23, senior Turkish officials told a group of American journalists and commentators, including this author, that the Ambassador would not return to Washington until after Mr. Obama's April 24 statement commemorating the Ottoman Armenian deaths.

One of the major Turkish lobby groups, the American Turkish Council indefinitely postponed its conference which was due to overlap with the nuclear security summit and feature Mr. Erdogan.

Armenia demands justice

Meantime, Armenia's president condemned Turkey for its continued denial of the Genocide as he visited the memorial to Armenian victims in Der Zor in present-day Syria on March 24, a site of mass deaths of Armenian civilians during the Genocide.

Mr. Sargsyan urged the international community to recognize the grave crime committed against Armenians and wondered when justice would finally be delivered.

And in an interview with Germany's Spiegel magazine published earlier this week, Mr. Sargsyan argued that had U.S. and other Western nations clearly condemned the Armenian Genocide, Turkey would take a more conciliatory line on the issue as well.

In that interview, Mr. Sargsyan also rejected a historical commission on the Genocide that was first proposed by the Turkish government in 2005.

"Setting up such a commission would mean calling into question the fact of the genocide perpetrated against our people" and is intended as a delay tactic by Turkey, he argued.

U.S. wants continued dialogue

On March 12 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned President Sargsyan inviting him to attend the nuclear security summit.

According to the White House press office Mr. Sargsyan will have a bilateral meeting with President Obama, a first such meeting for an Armenian president in Washington in nine years.

Following a half-hour conversation between Mrs. Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 28, U.S. also succeeded in getting Turkey to change its position.

On April 2, Mr. Erdogan described the conversation as "a positive development" and expressed hope that "these positive developments would continue in April."

Turkish officials announced that Ambassador Namik Tan would return to Washington within days and that Mr. Erdogan would go to the nuclear summit on April 12.

Mr. Erdogan has now secured a meeting with Mr. Sargsyan and Mr. Davutoglu has suggested meeting with leaders of the Armenian Diaspora in U.S.

Such meetings would give fresh credence to an argument that the Armenian-Turkish dialogue is continuing even if October agreements remain unratified and unimplemented.

More than 40 heads of state and governments, primarily representing countries that use nuclear energy, are expected to participate in the summit.

U.S. is expected to use the venue to focus on mobilizing international support for fresh sanctions against Iran and its nuclear program.

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