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President Biden on Friday spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of a possible statement recognizing the Armenian genocide, which is expected to enrage Turkish nationalists.
Biden expressed “his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” the White House said in a statement.
Turkey’s government views the killing of about 1 million Armenians in World War I as the result of war-related causes rather than a deliberate ethnic cleansing of the Christian ethnic group.
Erdogan, an authoritarian Islamist who has been in power since 2003, has had a difficult relationship with the U.S. — particularly after Erdogan watched in 2017 as his guards attacked U.S. citizens near the White House after a meeting with then-President Donald Trump.
Fifteen of Erdogan’s guards faced U.S. charges for the attack on pro-Kurdish and pro-Armenian demonstrators, though charges against 11 of them were mysteriously dropped in 2018. Congress blocked an arms sale to Turkey after the attack.
Biden and Erdogan agreed to hold a one-on-one meeting in June during a NATO summit in Belgium, the White House said in the Friday statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed at her daily press briefing Friday that the Biden administration will release a statement Saturday on the 106th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of Armenians, but she did not confirm its content.
Turkish officials have warned the U.S. not to call the series of massacres and death marches a genocide, saying it could ensure that Turkey continues its long-running policy of closing border crossings to Armenia.
Turkey supported Armenia’s adversary Azerbaijan in a war last year over the Armenian-populated breakaway state Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been a de facto independent country dependent on Armenia since 1991.
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Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh surrendered to Azerbaijan in November, relinquishing much of the separatist republic to Azerbaijan.
Turkish officials said it’s possible to see a reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border following the surrender, and warned it might not happen if Biden recognizes the killings as a genocide.
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