ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–U.S. President Barack Obama urged the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia during a meeting late Monday to complete talks aimed at restoring ties between the two neighbors.
Ankara and Yerevan are engaged in high-level negotiations to end nearly a century of hostility, including the reopening of the border — a move which could help shore up stability in the volatile Caucasus.
“On the margins of tonight’s Alliance of Civilizations dinner, the president met the foreign ministers of Turkey, Armenia and Switzerland to commend their efforts toward Turkish-Armenian normalization and to urge them to complete an agreement with dispatch,” a senior U.S. official told reporters in Istanbul.
The official was referring to a U.N.-backed conference in Istanbul organized to discuss ways of building bridges between the Muslim world and the West, which Obama attended on Monday as part of his visit to Turkey.
“President Obama voiced support for efforts by the leaders of Armenia and Turkey to normalize bilateral relations, expressing satisfaction with progress made in the negotiations of late,” Tigran Balayan, a spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, said, commenting on the meeting. He said Obama “encouraged” the two sides to sign a relevant agreement “in the near future.”
“In the words of President Obama, the steps taken by the leaders of Armenia and Turkey are historic and courageous and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border can earn the two peoples a peaceful and prosperous future,” Balayan told RFE/RL from Istanbul.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara earlier on Monday, Obama said the Turkish-Armenian negotiations “could bear fruit very quickly, very soon.” He indicated that he will therefore be very careful in his public pronouncements on the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Empire. He at the same time stood by his earlier statements describing the deaths of more than one million Armenians as genocide.