In a phone call, the two reportedly discussed what will be a first for a US president: calling the 1915 mass killings a ‘genocide’.
United States President Joe Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he plans to recognise the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as an act of “genocide”, Bloomberg and the Reuters news agencies reported Friday, citing people familiar with the call between the leaders.
The two spoke Friday for the first time since Biden became president in January, a day before Biden’s expected remarks designating the killings as “genocide”, an action that will further strain already fraught ties between the US and Turkey.
“When it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow,” US Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Friday, while declining to reveal details.
Biden would be the first US president to formally recognise the killings of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 as genocide.
Turkey has acknowledged the deaths of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, but has steadfastly denied that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
If Biden follows through on recognising the mass killings as a genocide, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, that will further harm ties between the NATO allies.
Turkish presidential spokesperson Fahrettin Altun on Tuesday called a genocide designation “a slander that has no connection with the facts and is only fuelled by political calculations. It is an emotional, irrational and illegitimate accusation.”
Meanwhile, Biden and Erdogan agreed during their call to meet in June when both men will be in Brussels for the NATO summit, the White House announced Friday.
The three-month delay in Biden making his first outreach to Erdogan is widely seen as a cold shoulder to the Turkish president, who had enjoyed close ties with former President Donald Trump.
The White House account of Friday’s call made no mention of the Armenian issue.
“President Biden spoke today with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conveying his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” the White House said in a statement.
It said the two leaders agreed to meet on the margins of the NATO summit in June to have a wider conversation about their two countries’ relations.
“Both leaders agreed on the strategic character of the bilateral relationship and the importance of working together to build greater cooperation on issues of mutual interest,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has stepped up pressure on Turkey by frequently expressing its discontent over Ankara’s human rights track record, and a gap remains between the two sides over a host of issues including Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons systems and policy differences regarding Syria.