ZURICH (AP) – The signing of an accord to restore diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia was delayed at the last minute Saturday due to concerns over the wording of the final statements the parties will make.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton abruptly returned to her hotel just before she was to attend the signing ceremony.
“We’re facilitating the two sides on coming to an agreement on the statements they are going to make at the ceremony,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelley.
Diplomats said the Armenians were concerned about wording in the Turkish statement that was to be made after the signing ceremony.
An aide to Clinton was meeting with the Armenians and was talking by telephone with the Turks to work out the problem, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
A Zurich police car rushed up to Clinton’s hotel and two Turkish officials went in to present a new statement with revised wording, according to a U.S. official.
Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state, then met with the Turks, Armenians and Swiss mediator Michael Ambuehl to seek a solution, U.S. officials said.
The Turks and Armenians are to sign an accord establishing diplomatic ties in hopes of reopening their border and ending a century of acrimony over their bloody past.
Both parliaments are expected to ratify it, but nationalists on both sides are seeking to derail implementation of the agreement. 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 signing.
In Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was showing “goodwill” to restore ties with Armenia. But he said Turkey was keen on seeing Armenian troops withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-occupied enclave in Azerbaijan that has been a center of regional tensions.
“We are trying to boost our relations with Armenia in a way that will cause no hard feelings for Azerbaijan,” Erdogan told reporters.
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian said his country was taking “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.”
That clause is viewed as a concession to Turkey, which denies genocide, contending the toll is inflated and those killed were victims of civil war.
“There is no alternative to the establishment of the relations with Turkey without any precondition,” said Sarkisian. “It is the dictate of the time.”
Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were among the leaders who were on hand to attend the signing, when it takes place.
Better ties between Turkey, a regional heavyweight, and poor, landlocked Armenia are a priority for President Barack Obama. They could help reduce tensions in the troubled Caucasus region and facilitate its growing role as a corridor for energy supplies bound for the West.
Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, thanked Turkey, which is a candidate for 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 after arriving in Zurich.
Switzerland, which mediated six weeks of talks between Turkey and Armenia to reach the accord, is hosting the signing.
Necati Cetinkaya, a deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, defended the deal, saying “sincere steps that are being taken will benefit Turkey.” He said Turkey is aiming to form friendly ties with all its neighbors and could benefit from trade with Armenia.
But Yilmaz Ates of the main opposition Republican People’s Party said Turkey should avoid any concessions. “If Armenia wants to repair relations … then it should end occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, that’s it,” Ates said Saturday.
About 10,000 protesters rallied Friday in Armenia’s capital to oppose the signing, and a tour of Armenian communities by Sarkisian sparked protests in Lebanon and France, with demonstrators in Paris shouting “Traitor!”
On the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Turks have close cultural and linguistic ties with Azerbaijan, which is pressing Turkey for help in recovering its land. Turkey shut its border with Armenia to protest the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.
Turkey wants Armenia to withdraw some troops from the enclave area to show goodwill and speed the opening of their joint border, but Armenia has yet to agree, said Omer Taspinar, Turkey project director at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “We may end up in a kind of awkward situation where there are diplomatic relations, but the border is still closed,” Taspinar said.