ZURICH: Turkey and Armenia signed a landmark agreement Saturday to establish diplomatic relations and open their sealed border after a century of enmity, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped the two sides clear a last-minute snag.
The contentious issue of whether the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians during the final days of the Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide is only hinted at in the agreement.
“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 in the Swiss city of Zurich 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, U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity, in keeping with State Department regulations. Better ties between Turkey, a regional heavyweight, and poor, landlocked 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 sides make 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.”
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.
U.N. 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; the top U.S. 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 Edward Nalbandian met in person at the hotel and drove back to the university where negotiations continued. It was not clear if there would be a resolution.
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.
“The success of Turkey in pressuring Armenia into accepting these humiliating, one-sided protocols proves, sadly, that genocide pays,” said Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America.