- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

ZURICH | Turkey and Armenia signed an accord Saturday to establish diplomatic relations after a century of enmity, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped the two sides clear a last-minute snag.

“It was pulled back from the brink,” said a senior U.S. official.

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers signed the agreement 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 and there were no spoken statements.

Officials say Mrs. Clinton and mediators from Switzerland intervened to help broker a solution.

The accord is expected to win ratification from both nations’ parliaments and could lead to a reopening of their border, which has been closed for 16 years.

But nationalists on both sides are still seeking to derail implementation of the deal.

American officials said Mrs. Clinton, along with 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 the University of Zurich and had expressed those concerns “at the last minute” before the scheduled signing ceremony.

Mrs. 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, Mrs. Clinton and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian met in person at the hotel and drove back to the university, where negotiations continued.

The Turks and Armenians signed an accord establishing diplomatic ties in hope of reopening their border and ending a century of acrimony over their bloody past. Their parliaments are expected to ratify it, but nationalists on both sides are seeking to derail implementation of the agreement.

Major countries, however, expressed their support for the accord, with the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, France and the European Union in the room to watch the signing.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was showing “goodwill” to restore ties with Armenia. But he said Turkey was eager to see Armenian troops withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-occupied enclave in Azerbaijan that has been a center of regional tensions.

“We are trying to boost our relations with Armenia in a way that will cause no hard feelings for Azerbaijan,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters.

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian said his country was taking “responsible decisions” in normalizing relations with Turkey, despite what he called the unhealable wounds of genocide.

The agreement calls for a panel to discuss “the historical dimension” of the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. The discussion is to include “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

That clause is viewed as a concession to Turkey, which denies genocide, contending the toll is inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war.

“There is no alternative to the establishment of the relations with Turkey without any precondition,” said Mr. Sarkisian. “It is the dictate of the time.”

About 10,000 protesters rallied Friday in Armenia’s capital to oppose the signing.

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