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U.S. ‘Still Pushing For Turkish-Armenian Normalization’

U.S. ‘Still Pushing For Turkish-Armenian Normalization’

The United States is continuing to press Turkey to unconditionally normalize its relations with Armenia, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, John Heffern, said on Wednesday.

“We still are very hopeful that the process will resume as long as it’s not linked to any other issue,” Heffern told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “So we are continuing to work with Turkey and to push Turkey to do the right thing.”

He seemed to refer to the ratification of two U.S.-brokered protocols that were signed by Armenia and Turkey in October 2009. The protocols committed the two neighboring states to establishing diplomatic relations and opening the Turkish-Armenian border. Faced with an uproar from Azerbaijan, Ankara subsequently made their ratification by the Turkish parliament conditional on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called on the Turkish government to drop this precondition. Visiting Turkey last December, Vice President Joe Biden urged the Turks to ratify the protocols “in the months ahead.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveyed a similar message when she visited Istanbul in July 2011. Ankara has remained adamant, however, in linking protocol ratification with a Karabakh settlement sought by Baku.

Turkish-Armenian relations were reportedly on the agenda of U.S. President Barack Obama’s weekend talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul that were held on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Chicago.

“We meet, of course, all the time with Armenian and Turkish leaders, we continue to push it, and we are very pleased that the [Armenian] president has shown the leadership to keep pushing for the protocols and to keep the protocols in front of the [Armenian] National Assembly, hoping that Turkey will do the right thing,” Heffern said.

President Serzh Sarkisian threatened last year to withdraw Yerevan’s signature from the accords if the Turkish side sticks to the Karabakh linkage. But he has not acted on the threat so far.

Heffern spoke to RFE/RL after inaugurating an exhibition at the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan dedicated to Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross (ARC). Barton was honored by the museum leadership in recognition of a relief effort initiated by her following the 1896 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire which left an estimated 300,000 people dead.

Medical teams sent by the ARC to the empire’s Armenian-populated regions battled disease epidemics triggered by the massacres. Barton also organized distribution of food, seeds, tools and cattle to hundreds of Armenian villages.

“Clara Barton opened an important page in American history and the history of Armenian-American friendship,” Hayk Demoyan, the museum director, said in a speech at the opening ceremony.

“For us the theme of today’s event is the deep and long-standing friendship between the Armenian people and the American people and the role that Clara Barton played in deepening that friendship,” agreed Heffern.

The U.S. envoy also described the museum and the adjacent memorial to some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians massacred during World War One as “an important partner and teacher for all of us in the international community.”

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