YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States hopes that President Serzh Sarkisian will visit Turkey in October to continue the so-called “soccer diplomacy” with Ankara, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said over the weekend.
Bryza acknowledged at the same time that the U.S.-backed Turkish-Armenian dialogue has stalled of late and that he is now less optimistic about chances for the normalization of relations between the two estranged neighbors.
“What I had hoped was going to happen did not happen,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Sometimes, if I’m asked to make a prediction, the prediction does not come true. I thought that there was a specific step that was about to occur.”
“There is no reason why those steps still can not happen, and we are working together with the Swiss mediators to try to help the parties think through what it is that they each can do to get the process moving again. I do have some hope that that will happen, but I can’t predict how quickly or what can be agreed,” he added.
Speaking to RFE/RL on May 28, Bryza insisted that Armenia’s rapprochement with Turkey has not reached an impasse despite Ankara’s renewed linkage between the normalization of bilateral relations and a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Visiting Yerevan two weeks later, Philip Gordon, the newly appointed U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian, likewise sounded upbeat on the normalization prospects.
Sarkisian has since increasingly expressed his frustration with Ankara’ stance, implicitly accusing the Turks of reneging on agreements reached during year-long negotiations with his government. The Armenian leader made clear last month that he will not accept Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s invitation to watch with him the October 14 return match of the two countries’ national soccer teams unless Turkey takes “real steps” to reopen its border with Armenia. The two presidents attended the first game played in Yerevan in September last year.
In Bryza’s words, Sarkisian’s visit to Turkey would be “very good news for America” because it would mean that “two of our friends are coming together.” “We were so pleased when President Gul came to Yerevan and we would be happy if President Sarkisian went to Turkey,” he said.
Bryza stressed, however, that Washington will not press Sarkisian to accept Gul’s invitation. “It’s important not to conflate or confuse our desire for something to happen with pressure,” he said. “I have seen some absolutely ridiculous accusations by some here in Armenia that the United States is pressuring Armenia to agree to one thing or another.”
Bryza also insisted that the success of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue does not hinge on a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the U.S., Russia and France. “These two processes are separate,” he said. “What is true is that, as I’ve said so many times, if there is progress in one process, that will help to generate a more positive mood throughout the entire region and then help to reduce tension and facilitate progress in the other process.”