WASHINGTON — Turkey and Armenia are likely to announce a deal soon aimed at easing their conflict, diplomats said Friday in a development that would sweeten President Obama's visit to Turkey next week.
The two countries are expected this month to announce an agreement to resume official contacts and reopen borders that have been closed since 1993, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
The likelihood of a breakthrough would allow the president to praise progress toward reconciliation as he stops in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and Istanbul on a two-day visit aimed at strengthening ties to an ally the U.S. needs for help in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But a deal between Armenia and Turkey could spell disappointment for Armenian Americans who want Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge to declare that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks beginning in 1915 was a genocide.
With substantial progress toward rapprochement, Obama is likely to postpone a genocide declaration in a presidential proclamation April 24, the annual remembrance day. The White House is expected to argue that under the circumstances, the use of the term "genocide" in the proclamation would anger Turkey and threaten the talks.
Ankara contends that the deaths were the result of war, not planned genocide.
In London, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday acknowledged that his country is headed toward better relations with Armenia.
"We have taken steps toward such a decision," he said at a news conference. "We have made ourselves ready."
To show its goodwill toward the U.S., Turkey has deployed ships to fight piracy off Somalia and promised further help in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Turkey's government radio and television service this week began Armenian-language radio broadcasts.
However, Erdogan was adamant that the deaths nearly a century ago were not the result of genocide.
Talks between the two countries intensified last fall after President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia.
Diplomats said the announcement could come before Obama's visit to Turkey on Monday, or else on April 16, when the Turkish foreign minister is scheduled to visit Yerevan, the Armenian capital, for a regional meeting.
Mark Parris, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, said an announcement April 16 would be "almost as good" for Obama if he is looking for a way to justify the politically difficult decision to postpone a genocide declaration.
Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it would be difficult for Obama to label the mass killing a genocide after visiting Turkey for two days to strengthen bilateral ties. "It would be like saying 'I love you,' and then, a day later, saying 'I don't like you.' "
Obama administration officials have said in response to questions about their plans on the genocide resolution that their focus is on helping improve relations between Turkey and Armenia. A White House spokesman said Friday that he had no information on an impending deal.
Times staff writer Laura King in Istanbul contributed to this report.