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Obama urges Turkey and Armenia to 'move forward' with dialogue

Latest update : 2009-04-07

US President Barack Obama said on Monday he wanted Turkey and Armenia to make amends, adding he would not interfere with the matter over whether the Armenian massacre a century ago was a "genocide."

AFP - US President Barack Obama Monday called on Turkey and Armenia to "move forward" in fence-mending talks and signalled he would not interfere in their dispute over whether the massacre of Armenians a century ago was "genocide".

Obama said he had not changed his view that the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide but insisted that reconciliation between the two neighbours was more important.

"I want to focus not on my views right now, but on the views of the Turkish and Armenian people. If they can move forward... the entire world should encourage them," Obama, on a two-day visit to Turkey, said.

The negotiation process between Turkey and Armenia "could bear fruit very quickly," he said, speaking at a joint press conference with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

"I'm not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while (the two countries) are having useful negotiations," he added.

During his election campaign, Obama had pledged to his Armenian-American supporters to recognise the World War I killings as genocide.

Ankara has warned Washington that such a move could hit bilateral ties and derail reconcilitaion efforts with Armenia.

Washington has traditionally condemned the massacres, but refrained from dubbing them a "genocide", wary of straining relations with Turkey, a NATO member and a key ally in the Middle East.

Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia because of its campaign to have the killings recognised as genocide.

In 1993, it shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with close ally Azerbaijan, then at war with Armenia over the Nagorny-Karabakh enclave, dealing a heavy blow to the impoverished nation.

In an address to the Turkish parliament later Monday, Obama said Washington "strongly supports the full normalisation" of ties between Turkey and Armenia, including the opening of their border.

"An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations," he said.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire fell apart, a claim backed by several other countries.

Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that 300,000-500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops.

The dispute is among the issues that Ankara and Yereven had been discussing since reconciliation efforts gathered steam in September when Gul paid a landmark visit to Armenia.

Date created : 2009-04-06