Turkey-Armenia peace focus of Barack Obama

Turkey-Armenia peace focus of Barack Obama

ANKARA - US President Barack Obama adopts a tactful approach while dealing with the sensitive matter of the events that occurred around 1915 when many people died. ’My views are on the record, and I have not changed those views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gül's leadership you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a host of issues,’ he says.

The language to define the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians should be the task of Turks and Armenians, U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday in Parliament language that skirted the emotional word "genocide."    

The question of labeling history came up first in Obama's news conference with counterpart Abdullah Gül, in response to a query noting his well-known campaign promise to support a U.S. congressional resolution that would do just that. Obama responded that his views "have not changed," but he then noted the ongoing progress that both Turkey and Armenia have made in recent months toward reconciliation and offered effusive praise for this example.

"My views are on the record, and I have not changed those views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gül's leadership you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of long standing issues including this one," Obama told a joint news conference at the Çankaya presidential palace.

The U.S. leader stressed to "not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and Armenian people" when he was insistently asked if he changed his views. He urged the world to encourage the ongoing peace talks between Turkey and Armenia. Later addressing Parliament, as if sensing the hypersensitivity to the topic, Obama said, "I know there are strong feelings on this issue in the chamber." There he used the term "the events of 1915" and went on to describe America's own troubled history, including slavery and the sufferings of Native Americans. All countries, he said in language likely to fall short of what many Armenians in the United States are demanding to hear, must come to terms their history.

During his election campaign, Obama had pledged to recognize the Armenian claims, a move Turkey saw as a risk that will poison bilateral relations with the United States as well as ongoing efforts for reconciliation between Ankara and Yerevan.

Turkish and Armenian officials have been holding high-level talks for a while to normalize ties, and the two sides are close to announcing a deal aimed at reopening their border and restoring relations, it was reported earlier. The announcement of the deal could give Turkey an upper hand in the run-up to April 24, a commemoration day by Armenians for the 1915 killings, for which U.S. presidents issue letters of respect that have so far refrained from including the word "genocide."

"I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations, which could bear fruit very quickly, very soon," Obama told the news conference with the Turkish president. That statement was seen as a strong indicator of major progress in Turkish-Armenian ties, showing that Turkish officials briefed Obama about the rapprochement plan. For his part, Gül reiterated the Turkish government’s proposal to set up a joint committee of historians to study genocide allegations and highlighted that parliamentarians or politicians should not make decisions about history.

Turk-US partnership a model, says Obama

Turkey and the United States can build a "model partnership" between a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation, said Obama on his first trip to a predominantly Muslim country as president.

He said a predominantly Christian nation and a Muslim nation, a Western nation and a nation that straddles the East and West, can create a model that is respectful, secure and prosperous without allowing tension between the cultures. "This is extremely important," Obama said. He stressed that one of the United States’ strengths was that it has a predominantly Christian population and that "we feel ourselves a nation of citizens," adding modern Turkey was also built on similar values as a secular country respecting religious freedoms and the rule of law.

Obama said he was looking to Turkey to help bridge the divide between Muslim nations and the West. He added Turkey and the United States were joining to deliver this message to the world and that it would have an extraordinary impact. After wrapping up contacts in Parliament, Obama met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Foreign policy issues figured high on the agenda of talks between the U.S. president and Turkish officials.

Terrorism: Obama said he and Gül have been "very clear that terrorism is not acceptable under any circumstances." He noted the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, was on the United States’ watch list of terror organizations and pledged to provide Turkey with any assistance to combat the PKK. In Parliament, he said: "There is no excuse for terror against any nation. As president, and as a NATO ally, I pledge that you will have our support against the terrorist activities of the PKK. These efforts will be strengthened by the continued work to build ties of cooperation between Turkey, the Iraqi government and Iraq’s Kurdish leaders, and by your continued efforts to promote education and opportunity for Turkey’s Kurds."  

EU bid: Obama reiterated the strong U.S. support for Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union and praised the reforms implemented by the government. "In the last several years, you have abolished state-security courts and expanded the right to counsel. You have reformed the penal code and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly. You lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new state Kurdish television station," he told Parliament. But he highlighted that any steps to improve religious freedoms and minority rights Ğ like the reopening the Heybeliada (Halki) seminary Ğ would send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.

Cyprus dispute: Obama, referring to the ongoing negotiations to reunify the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, expressed U.S. willingness to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement.

Mideast peace: Obama said the U.S. was sharing the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. "Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," he said.

Iran: Obama said the U.S. wanted Iran to play its role in the community of nations, with the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security. "Now, Iran’s leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people."

Iraq troop pullout: Obama mentioned U.S. plans to remove combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next August.

Afghanistan: Obama said Turkey has been a true partner as its troops were among the first in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. "You have sacrificed much in this endeavor. Now, we must achieve our goals together. Together, we can rise to meet this challenge like we have so many before."
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