Turkish-Armenian signing delayed; Clinton departs

ZURICH – U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton engaged in last-minute diplomacy on Saturday aimed at salvaging an accord to establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia after a century of enmity.

The agreement was supposed to be signed by the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers at a reception in the Swiss city of Zurich, with Clinton among the world dignitaries in attendance. But a dispute over the statements the countries would make sparked a delay, and forced her to intervene.

"She's involved in working out an agreeable text," said a senior U.S. State Department official. "She's talking with the Armenian foreign minister, and she had a long talk with the Turkish foreign minister."

U.S. officials said Clinton and the Armenian delegation were on the way to the signing ceremony, about 90 minutes after it was supposed to begin. Clinton had abruptly returned to her hotel just before the scheduled start as problems emerged.

Diplomats said the Armenians were concerned about wording in the Turkish statement that was to be made after the signing ceremony.

The Turks and Armenians are to sign 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 But he said Turkey was keen on seeing Armenian troops withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-occupied enclave in Azerbaijan that has been a center of regional tensions.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," 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 Sarkisian. "It is the dictate of the time."

Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were among the leaders who were on hand to attend the signing, when it takes place.

Better ties between Turkey, a regional heavyweight, and poor, landlocked Armenia are a priority for President Barack Obama. They could help reduce tensions in the troubled Caucasus region and facilitate its growing role as a corridor for energy supplies bound for the West.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, thanked Turkey, which is a candidate for EU membership.

"This is an important cooperation, no doubt, of Turkey to solve one issue that pertains to a region which is in our neighborhood," Solana told AP Television News after arriving in Zurich.

Associated Press Writers Matthew Lee in Zurich, Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this report.