Biden, Erdoğan speak amid tensions over Armenian genocide
President Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the first time as commander in chief on Friday amid tensions over White House’s expected declaration Saturday that the massacre of roughly a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago was “genocide.”
The White House readout of the call noted the two men would meet this summer but made no mention of discussion about the potential genocide declaration, which Turkey has long lobbied against strenuously. Bloomberg News later reported that Biden informed Erdogan that he plans to recognize the massacre of Armenians as genocide.
The White House said Biden conveyed “his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”
The New York Times and other outlets reported earlier this week that Biden is expected to issue a formal declaration stating that the killings of Armenians during World War I was a genocide, a move that is likely to exacerbate tensions with Turkey, a NATO ally.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly declined to confirm the reports, saying that Biden would have more to say on the topic this weekend. Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is Saturday, and a formal declaration is likely to be issued on that day if Biden follows through with the plans.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter on Friday said Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken to his counterpart, seemed to signal the Biden administration was now referring to the historic killings as a “genocide.”
“At this time we don’t have anything to read out as far as the secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart, but when it comes to the Armenian Genocide you can expect an announcement tomorrow, we’d have to refer you to the White House,” she said in a briefing with reporters on Friday.
No president since Ronald Reagan has described the massacre as genocide over concerns of angering Ankara.
Biden has endured pressure from lawmakers to recognize Armenian genocide. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) led a letter to Biden this past week calling on him to follow through on the promise “to recognize the genocide and your decades of leadership on this issue.”
Biden and Erdoğan agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in June, according to the White House readout of the call.
The meeting between Biden and Erdoğan in June would come on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels, which the White House announced Friday Biden plans to attend in person. Biden will travel first to the United Kingdom for a Group of Seven summit there before making a stop in Belgium for the NATO summit and meetings with European Union leaders.
Porter emphasized the importance of the U.S. relationship with Turkey in her remarks.
“Turkey is a valued and long-standing NATO ally and we obviously have shared interests and those shared interests include, of course, counterterrorism, ending the conflict in Syria as well as deterring any malign influence in the region,” she said.
“We also seek cooperation with Turkey on common priorities such as [unclear] engaging and dialogue to address any disagreements,” Porter continued.
“At the same time, we’ll always uphold our values which includes human rights and rule of law and protecting the interests of those while keeping Turkey, as well, aligned with the transatlantic alliance on all of these critical issues.”