US President Joe Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he intends to recognize the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as an act of “genocide.”
The two spoke for the first time on Friday since Biden became president in January, a day before Biden’s expected remarks designating the killings as “genocide”, a move that would weaken already strained relations between the US and Turkey.
On Friday, US Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters that “when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow.”
Biden would be the first US president to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s massacres against 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1917 as genocide.
Turkey has admitted the deaths of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, but has consistently argued that the killings were planned in advance and constituted genocide.
If Biden follows through to declare the mass killings as a genocide, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, it would exacerbate tensions between 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, the White House reported Friday that Biden and Erdogan decided during their phone call to meet in June when both men would be in Brussels for the NATO summit.
The three-month delay in Biden’s first outreach to Erdogan is generally seen as a cold shoulder to the Turkish president, who had previously enjoyed strong relations 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.
According to the statement, the two leaders agreed to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit in June to discuss their two countries’ relations in greater depth.
“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.