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The State Department said Thursday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly to Zurich to attend Saturday's signing of accords to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia. It will be the first stop on a trip that will also take her to Britain, Ireland and Russia, where she will pay a visit to the heavily-Muslim city of Kazan.
The United States has been heavily involved over the years in efforts to achieve a reconciliation between longtime antagonists Turkey and Armenia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon, who announced the Secretary's intention to attend the Zurich event, says it will underline the United States' commitment to see the process through to full normalization.
"She's going there to show our support for what we believe is a historic step for both Turkey and Armenia towards normalization of their relations," said Philip Gordon. "We've been engaged in this process. She has herself been closely engaged with the parties to move it along, and we're going to remain ready to work closely with both governments in support of this process, which we believe will contribute to peace and security and stability throughout the region."
Bitterness between Turkey and Armenia is generations-old, fueled in part by the killing of as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians during World War I in what was then the Ottoman empire. More recently, since Armenia's independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, they have taken opposite sides in the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the mainly-Armenian Azeri enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Zurich, Turkish and Armenian leaders are to sign protocols to normalize relations and establish diplomatic ties. U.S. officials say they expect other major diplomatic figures to attend the event including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana.
Zurich will be the first stop for Clinton on a previously-announced trip that will take her to Britain, Ireland and Russia. In Moscow, she will meetings with Lavrov, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and other officials on advancing prospects for a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction accord, and enhancing cooperation with Russia on efforts to curb the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
In addition to talks in Moscow, Clinton will pay a visit to the Volga River city of Kazan, east of Moscow - the capital of the mainly-Muslim Russian Republic of Tatarstan. At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly laughingly dismissed a suggestion the visit was intended to inflame ethnic tensions in Russia.
"Really to understand Russia and its vibrancy and its diversity, you have to get outside of Moscow, and I think Kazan was a good place to go because it really shows that the Russian Federation is a multi-ethnic country," he said. "And I think this will help the Secretary, and help all of us, understand that about Russia."
A senior State Department official said Clinton and Lavrov will try to put the sides on track for a new arms reduction treaty before their current accord expires in December. He said the Secretary intends to raise issues of disagreement with Moscow including human rights, NATO enlargement and Georgia.
He said Clinton will reiterate U.S. support for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity and urge Moscow to fully implement cease-fire accords from the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, which he said it has not done thus far.
Stressing U.S. opposition to Russia's recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the official said the United States does not consider the Georgian issue settled and that the status-quo is neither good nor healthy.