WASHINGTON (RFE/RL)–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned President Serzh Sarkisian late Thursday just hours after he threatened to annul Armenia’s fence-mending agreements with Turkey if Ankara fails to unconditionally implement them, it emerged on Friday.
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, Sarkisian said Ankara’s continuing linkage of the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict runs counter to the U.S.-backed agreements signed in October. He said he has already instructed his administration to draft amendments to Armenian laws that “pertain to the signing, ratification and abrogation of international agreements.”
According to Sarkisian’s press office, Clinton initiated the phone conversation to brief the Armenian leader on President Barack Obama’s Monday talks with the visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A U.S. official told RFE/RL that the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement topped the agenda of the talks.
“During the phone conversation, Secretary of State Clinton once again emphasized that the United States will continue with its consistent support for a speedy normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey without preconditions,” the presidential office said in a statement.
The statement said Sarkisian asked Clinton to express his “gratitude” to Obama for adhering to this position. It also cited him as reaffirming Yerevan’s readiness to press ahead with the normalization process and expressing hope that “the Turkish side will display similar readiness and responsibility.” There was no word on whether the two touched upon the Armenian threats to walk away from the deal.
In a letter to an Armenian-American organization publicized last week, Obama said the process “should move forward without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe.” According to Sarkisian’s office, Clinton likewise stated that Washington views the Turkish-Armenian normalization and efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as “separate processes.”
However, Erdogan insisted after the talks with Obama that from Ankara’s perspective, the two processes are “very much related.” He said Turkey’s parliament is unlikely to ratify the two Turkish-Armenian “protocols” unless there is a breakthrough in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
The protocols commit Ankara to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and reopen the Turkish-Armenian border within two months of their entry into force. Neither document makes any direct reference to the Karabakh conflict.
Still, repeated pro-Azerbaijani statements made by Erdogan and other Turkish officials making the resolution of the conflict a requirement for normal relations point to the likelihood that Yerevan confidentially agreed to make more concessions to Azerbaijan during the fence-mending negotiations with the Turks. Sarkisian and his political allies strongly deny this.
The Sarkisian administration has also been on the defensive over a key protocol clause that envisages the formation of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians that would look into the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide. Ankara has made no secret that it will exploit the existence of the body to deter more countries from recognizing the Genocide. Sarkisian insisted in a November 28 speech, however, that the rapprochement with Turkey will actually help Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora “accelerate the recognition process.”
Clinton has been personally involved in the drawing up and signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols. She was among foreign dignitaries that attended the signing ceremony held in Zurich on October 10. The top U.S. diplomat already phoned Sarkisian in August and September to discuss the dramatic thaw in the historically strained Turkish-Armenian ties.