White House Raps Lawmakers on Armenia

The Associated Press
Oct 12 2007

White House Raps Lawmakers on Armenia
By DESMOND BUTLER and LOLITA C. BALDOR – 10 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration, chafing over a House
committee vote to label the deaths of Armenians a century ago as
genocide, warned Thursday that passage could put U.S. troops in Iraq
at risk, and said lawmakers’ time was better spent focused on
problems here at home.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice offered to give House members a classified briefing to spell out
what they called "national security interests" at stake.

And top military leaders – including Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff – made calls to Capitol Hill describing
potential repercussions of the congressional action.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gates and Rice warned that
a move by France’s national assembly last year to condemn the
Armenian deaths prompted Turkey to cancel contracts with the French
military.

"A similar reaction by the elected government of Turkey to a House
resolution could harm American troops in the field, constrain our
ability to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and
significantly damage our efforts to promote reconciliation between
Armenia and Turkey at a key turning point in their relations," said
Rice and Gates in the letter reviewed by the Associated Press.

They urged Pelosi to refrain from allowing the resolution to reach
the House floor for a vote.

White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel, meanwhile,
reiterated that the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee
approving the resolution would be problematic for American efforts in
the Middle East.

"While the House is debating the Ottoman Empire, they are not moving
forward with appropriations bills," said Stanzel. "The House has not
appointed conferees, they aren’t coming to the table to discuss
children’s health care, and they haven’t permanently closed the
intelligence gap that will open up when the Protect America Act
expires."

The administration is trying to soothe Turkish anger over the vote.
The foreign affairs panel defied warnings by President Bush with its
27-21 vote Wednesday to send the nonbinding measure to the full House
for a vote. The administration will now try to pressure Democratic
leaders not to schedule a vote, though it is expected to pass.

In Ankara, the Turkish government wasted little time before reacting.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman said Thursday that the
ambassador to Washington, Nabi Sensoy, was being recalled for
consultations. Also, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, was
invited to the Foreign Ministry and was told by Turkish officials of
their "unease" over the resolution.

Hours before the vote, Bush and his top two Cabinet members and other
senior officials made last-minute appeals to lawmakers to reject the
measure.

"Its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in
NATO and in the global war on terror," Bush said.

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul criticized the decision to move the
measure toward a vote in the House.

"Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once again
sacrificed important matters to petty domestic politics despite all
calls to common sense," said Gul, according to the state-run news
agency Anatolia. "This unacceptable decision by the committee, like
its predecessors, has no validity or respectability for the Turkish
nation."

In London Thursday, Gates told reporters the measure will damage
U.S.-Turkish relations at a time when U.S. forces in Iraq are relying
heavily on Turkish permission to use their airspace for U.S. air
cargo flights.

Pelosi, however, told reporters there never has been a good time for
the Armenian resolution, versions of which have been offered
repeatedly.

"I’ve been in Congress for 20 years, and for 20 years people have
been saying the same thing" about the timing being bad, she said.
Turkey was seen as having a strategic position in the Cold War as
well as the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the current Iraq war.

"Why do it now? Because there’s never a good time and all of us in
the Democratic leadership have supported" it, she said.

The House vote came as Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships
attacked suspected positions of Kurdish rebels near Iraq on
Wednesday, a possible prelude to a cross-border operation that the
Bush administration has opposed. The United States, already
preoccupied with efforts to stabilize other areas of Iraq, believes
that Turkish intervention in the relatively peaceful north could
further destabilize the country.

The committee’s vote was a triumph for well-organized
Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for
decades to pass a resolution.

Following the debate and vote, which was attended by aging Armenian
emigres who lived through the atrocities in what is now Turkey in
their youth, the interest groups said they would fight to ensure
approval by the full House.

"It is long past time for the U.S. government to acknowledge and
affirm this horrible chapter of history – the first genocide of the
20th century and a part of history that we must never forget," said
Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of
America.

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