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Obama Urges Armenia, Turkey To Normalize Ties

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian meets with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian meets with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has said Armenia and Turkey should "make every effort" to advance the process of normalizing relations.

Obama made the remarks at a meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington on April 12.

It followed a meeting between Sarkisian and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed at kick-starting the stalled reconciliation process.

Reports from the U.S. capital said the meeting lasted about 80 minutes, and that the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers were also in attendance, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported.

Before he left Ankara, Erdogan told reporters that "the priority issue [at the meeting] is developments regarding Armenia."

Neither Sarkisian nor Erdogan spoke to the press after their meeting.

But according to the Turkish daily "Sabah," Erdogan told Sarkisian that the existing "political atmosphere" does not bode well for the protocols' ratification by Turkey's Grand National Assembly. He blamed the atmosphere on recent decisions by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers to recognize the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

"If the protocols are brought to the agenda of the parliament while U.S. and Swedish parliaments are taking decisions on the issue, they will be rejected," he reportedly said.

"Sabah" also quoted Erdogan as also linking protocol ratification with decisive progress in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Armenia and Turkey signed agreements last October to establish diplomatic relations and open their land border.

'Ready For Normal Relations'

Following his meeting with Erdogan, Sarkisian met with members of the Armenian community at the National Cathedral in Washington and told them he took a firm stand with Erdogan during their meeting.

"We are ready to have normal relations with all our neighbors but we will not tolerate someone dictating conditions to us," the Armenian leader said, according to remarks posted on his website.

"I met this morning with the Turkish prime minister," Sarkisian said. "Our position was and is always is very clear: Turkey can't talk with Armenia and Armenians with the language of preconditions. We will simply not allow that."

Sarkisian added: "We are not going to make a subject of review the fact of genocide in any format or pretend that Turkey can play any positive role in the negotiating process of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution."

A spokesman for the National Security Council confirmed to RFE/RL that Obama would hold separate talks with Erdogan today. The official said no trilateral meeting with Obama and the two leaders was planned.

Erdogan has indicated that his government continues to link the parliamentary ratification of the two Turkish-Armenian "protocols" with a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

"Hurriyet Daily News" quoted him as saying that the U.S., Russian, and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group should be "much more active" in trying to broker a Karabakh settlement.

Erdogan flew to Washington just days after sending Turkey's Ambassador Namik Tan back to the United States.

Tan was recalled to Ankara last month in protest against a U.S. congressional committee's approval of a draft resolution recognizing the World War I-era massacres of Armenians as genocide, a label Ankara rejects.

Turkish officials say the Obama administration has assured Ankara that it will try to block further progress of the resolution. They also hope that Obama will again refrain from using the word "genocide" in his April 24 statement, which coincides with the 95th anniversary of the start of the mass killings and deportations.

"We received some satisfactory messages" from Washington, Tan told the Associated Press on April 9. "I hope there will be a new chapter."