10/14 IHT: U.S. House speaker vows debate on Armenian genocide resolution

U.S. House speaker vows debate on Armenian genocide resolution

By Brian Knowlton

Sunday, October 14, 2007

WASHINGTON: The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives insisted Sunday that she would bring to the full chamber a resolution condemning the killings of Armenians nearly a century ago as genocide, even as a Turkish general warned that this could lastingly damage a military relationship crucial to American forces in Iraq.

A House committee Wednesday passed a nonbinding resolution declaring the killings, which began in 1915 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, to be genocide, and the speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi, said Sunday that "I've said if it passed the committee that we would bring it to the floor."

But in Ankara, the Turkish military chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, said that if the full House passed the resolution, "our military relations with the United States can never be the same," Reuters reported. "The U.S. shot its own foot," he told the Milliyet newspaper.

Buyukanit's comment came two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned that bilateral relations with the United States, a key partner in NATO, were endangered. To underscore the point, Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Washington for consultations.

Strains have been further heightened by Turkish military and political preparations for possible strikes inside northern Iraq against militant Kurdish separatists, something U.S. officials fear could further destabilize the region. With troops poised near the border, the Turkish Parliament is set to debate whether to authorize an incursion. The rising tensions sent oil prices Friday to a record high of $84 a barrel.

The stage is thus set for a major showdown, with unknown consequences, if the full House approves the genocide resolution.

The Turkish government has bitterly protested the use of the word genocide - acknowledging the deaths of more than a million Armenians, many during forced relocations, but saying there was no intent to eliminate them. The deaths occurred before the creation of the Turkish republic in 1923.

Ankara's past warnings have not been hollow. Last year, it halted military cooperation with France after French lawmakers passed a genocide resolution.

The Bush administration's paramount concern is that U.S. forces might lose access to a major hub for shipping fuel and matériel to Iraq, a case President George W. Bush made Thursday.

The administration has sent two senior officials to Ankara to allay Turkish anger. One of the two, Eric Edelman, under secretary of defense for policy, said Saturday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had "asked us before we came here to express that the Bush administration is opposed to this resolution," The Associated Press reported from Istanbul. Edelman was joined by Dan Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have argued strongly against the resolution. The Turkish government has hired top lobbyists to add to the pressure on Congress.

If Pelosi does bring the matter to the full House, probably late this month or next month, it would be "the most irresponsible thing" to come from Congress this year, said Representative John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, the House minority leader.

"There's no question that the suffering of the Armenian people some 90 years ago was extreme," he said on Fox-Television. But that chapter in Turkey's past, Boehner added, "ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians."

An ABC-TV interviewer put to Pelosi the tough question at the core of the debate: What if forcing a vote on the resolution were to endanger the security of American troops in Iraq?

"Some of the things that are harmful to our troops relate to values - Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, torture," said the California congresswoman, whose district includes thousands of Armenian-Americans. "Our troops are well-served when we declare who we are as a country and increase the respect people have for us as a nation."

Pointing to a 20-year history of votes on the Armenian matter being deferred by war or geopolitical considerations, she said, "There's never been a good time."

Pelosi made other points: President Ronald Reagan had referred to the killings as genocide; aging Armenian survivors will soon be dead; and 23 other countries have declared the killings genocide.

The committee vote Thursday was bipartisan, but on Sunday, Republican leaders roundly condemned the resolution.

"I don't think the Congress passing this resolution is a good idea at any point," Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, said on ABC-TV, "but particularly not a good idea when Turkey is cooperating with us in many ways, which assures greater security for our soldiers."

It is unclear whether the administration might yet be able to dissuade Pelosi from pressing ahead. But she noted Sunday that she had yet to hear directly from Bush.

"We've never had a conversation about it," she said. "I've heard from the secretary of state and others in the administration, but I've never heard from the president."

Representative Steny Hoyer , Democrat of Maryland, the House majority leader, said he hoped Turks would understand that the resolution was not aimed at modern-day Turkey or its people. But he seemed to imply that the economic and political costs to Turkey of cutting off U.S. access might be so great that it might ultimately back down.

"Turkey's help to us is vital," he said on Fox TV, but "more vital is the United States' help to Turkey."

Eight former U.S. secretaries of state oppose the resolution, and on Sunday, former President Jimmy Carter joined them.

"I think if I was in Congress I would not vote for it," he said on CNN.

Source: http://www.iht.com/bin/printfriendly.php?id=7886937