Armenia, Turkey Sign Landmark Protocols


ZURICH (AP) — Turkey and Armenia signed a landmark agreement Saturday to establish diplomatic relations and open their sealed border after a century of enmity, as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped the two sides clear a last-minute snag.

“There were several times when I said to all of the parties involved that this is too important,” Clinton said. “This has to be seen through. We have come too far. All of the work that has gone into the protocols should not be walked away from.”

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers signed the accord here after a dispute over the final statements they would make. In the end, the signing took place about three hours later than scheduled and there were no spoken statements.

Clinton and mediators from Switzerland intervened to help broker a solution, US officials said on condition of anonymity, in keeping with State Department regulations. Better ties between Turkey and Armenia have been a priority for President Barack Obama, and Clinton had flown to Switzerland to witness the signing, not help close the deal.

Clinton told reporters traveling later on the plane with her to London that both sides had problems with the other’s prepared statement and that the Armenian foreign minister had to call his president several times.

She said it became important just to approve the accord and not have the sidesmake speeches that could be interpreted as putting legal conditions on the document. She told each country that could be done later, “but let the protocols be the statement because that was what we were there to sign.”

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The accord is expected to win ratification from both nations’ parliaments and could lead to a reopening of their border within two months. It has been closed for 16 years.

But nationalists on both sides are still seeking to derail implementation of the deal.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the signing a “historic decision” that “constitutes a milestone toward the establishment of good neighborly relations,” spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

American officials said Clinton, as well as the top US diplomat for Europe, Philip Gordon, and Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey were engaged in furious high-stakes shuttle diplomacy with the Turkish and Armenian delegations to resolve the differences.

Diplomats said the Armenians were concerned about wording in the Turkish statement that was to be made after the signing ceremony at University of Zurich and had expressed those concerns “at the last minute” before the scheduled signing ceremony.

Clinton had arrived at the ceremony venue after meeting separately with the Turks and Armenians at a hotel, but abruptly departed without leaving her car when the problem arose.

She returned to the hotel where she spoke by phone from the sedan in the parking lot, three times with the Armenians and four times with the Turks. At one point in the intervention, a Swiss police car, lights and siren blazing, brought a Turkish diplomat to the hotel from the university with a new draft of his country’s statement.

After nearly two hours, Clinton and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian met in person at the hotel and drove back to the university where negotiations continued.

In the end, the Turks and Armenians signed an accord establishing diplomatic ties that could reduce tensions in the troubled Caucasus region and facilitate its growing role as a corridor for energy supplies bound for the West.

The agreement faces nationalist opposition, and protests have been particularly vociferous among the Armenian Diaspora.

Major countries, however, expressed their support for the accord, with the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, France and the European Union in the room to watch the much-delayed signing.

“No problem, they signed,” quipped French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian said his country was making “responsible decisions” in normalizing relations with Turkey, despite what he called the unhealable wounds of genocide.

The agreement calls for a panel to discuss “the historical dimension” of the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. The discussion is to include “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

“There is no alternative to the establishment of the relations with Turkey without any precondition,” said Sargisian. “It is the dictate of the time.”
Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, thanked Turkey, which is a candidate for European Union membership.

“This is an important cooperation, no doubt, of Turkey to solve one issue that pertains to a region which is in our neighborhood,” Solana told AP Television News.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also was present for the ceremony in Switzerland, whose diplomats mediated six weeks of talks between Turkey and Armenia to reach the accord.

Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu appeared the far happier top envoy as he smiled broadly while posing for photographs and greeting the other foreign ministers in attendance. Armenia’s Nalbandian, by contrast, only grudgingly smirked as he shook Davutoglu’s hand.

About 10,000 protesters rallied Friday in Armenia’s capital to oppose the signing, and a tour of Armenian communities by Sargisian sparked protests in Lebanon and France.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, foreground, with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, foreground, with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian

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