ZURICH (DPA)—There was a three-hour delay to the signing of the Turkey-Armenia protocols on Saturday and diplomats were shuttling back and forth frantically to salvage what appeared to be a threatened deal – but in the end Armenia and Turkey were finally able to sit down and sign a deal that paves the way for full diplomatic and trade relations.
“We knew this was not going to be a walk in the park,” said one Western diplomat, two hours after the signing ceremony in Zurich was supposed to have begun.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to work, using her phones, running between buildings and rooms and forcing motorcades to do U-turns. Along with Swiss diplomats, she was eager to solve eleventh-hour disputes over language in speeches for the ceremony.
Meanwhile, the other guests – including Sergei Lavrov and Bernard Kouchner, the Russian and French foreign ministers – were sitting together, watching the World Cup qualification football match between Germany and Russia, and missing their flights.
For the Swiss, who mediated the talks and now wanted to host a historic signing of diplomatic ties between countries with generations of animosity towards each other, it became a turbulent ride.
But the Alpine diplomatic efforts paid off, being backed by the muscle and commitment of the US. Clinton even drove the Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian to the University of Zurich, where the signing was to take place, pushing him to compromise.
After more negotiations at the university, the sides agreed: Cancel the speeches, sign the papers and move on. And so it was.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey made the briefest of introductions, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Nalbandian of Armenia inked the appropriate places, hands were shaken, a few hugs, some smiles and everyone ran for their planes.
“There were several times when I said to all of the parties involved that this is too important, that this has to be seen through. You have come too far, all of the work that has gone into the protocols, you know, should not be walked away from,” Clinton recalled on her plane from Zurich to London.
The protocols call for the renewal of diplomatic ties, opening of the common border and establishment of a historical commission to investigate the Armenian Genocide, but for a time diplomats worried they would not be signed.
The Armenians opposed Turkish language in the speech that would have connected the ratification of the protocols by the Turkish parliament to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favoring Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan.
In the West the issues are seen as separate but connected.
“Progress on one will help elicit further progress on the other,” said one Western official. The deals are “separate, but moving forward at the same time.”
The Turks too were unhappy, even if to a lesser extent, about language that referred to “historical events.”
Turkish officials claimed the compromise to skip the speeches as their own, with one diplomat saying: “We want to get the process moving.”
Questions still hung heavy in the humid Zurich air after the signing. The two countries could not deliver speeches side by side and still required the world’s top diplomats to work overtime for signatures on documents agreed to weeks in advance.
The road ahead is not smooth, even if a major hurdle has been passed. It is now up for the two parliaments to ratify the deals, leading to open borders within two months.