The historic Saturday signing of an agreement normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia was delayed when the Armenian delegation objected to the wording of an oral statement.
“We are facilitating the two sides in coming to an agreement on the statements that they’re going to make at the ceremony,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. He didn’t indicate what Armenia’s problem with the wording was. The statement was to be delivered after the signing in Zurich. Officials said the signing is apparently not jeopardized by the holdup. The agreement would normalize relations between the countries after nearly a century of animosity. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is present in Zurich to attend the signing ceremony. After the disagreement arose, her motorcade turned around and she went back to her hotel. She and Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon were meeting with the Armenian foreign minister, Kelly said.
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The agreement would establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia and open their common border within two months after the agreement is ratified by each country’s parliament. Turkish-Armenian relations are often overshadowed by dispute over the massacre of ethnic Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, more than 90 years ago. Armenians accuse Ottoman Turks of committing genocide, killing more then a million Armenians beginning in 1915. Turkey vehemently rejects these allegations. A complicating issue is the “frozen conflict” in neighboring Nagorno-Karabach, an ethnically Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Turkey closed its border with Armenia after Armenia attacked Azerbaijan over the territory. During the U.S. presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama called for passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution. Since his election, he has stepped back from the issue. A major impediment to relations is a powerful lobby of ethnic Armenians living abroad — 5.7 million of them worldwide — who are violently opposed to any deal with Turkey. Washington, aware of the lobbying power of Armenian-Americans, at the same time has good relations with Turkey, which provides troops for the NATO contingent in Afghanistan.