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22 February 2009

2753) Once Upon A Time: White House Slams Approval Of Armenian Genocide Measure 12/10/2007, AP

The Bush administration, chafing over a House of Representatives' committee vote to label as genocide the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians, said Thursday that U.S. lawmakers could better spend their time passing legislation attending to . today's problems at home.

White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel reiterated the administration's disappointment with the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and said it 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. He said that Democrats should focus less on history than on more pressing concerns like children's health care and closing intelligence gaps.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is trying to soothe Turkish anger over the vote. The foreign affairs panel defied warnings by President George W. Bush with its 27-21 vote Wednesday to send the nonbinding Armenian 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.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was considering a list of possible responses to the United States that he could make public in coming days, according to a senior Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to address the issue.

When asked earlier if Turkey would shut down Incirlik, a strategic air base in Turkey used by the U.S. Air Force for operations in Iraq, Erdogan replied: "You don't talk about such things, you just do them."

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 commonsense," 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, visiting Defense Secretary Robert 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.

After Wednesday's vote, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said he would call the Turkish ambassador to Washington, and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would talk to Turkish leaders on Thursday.
U.S. diplomats have been quietly preparing Turkish officials for weeks for the likelihood that the resolution would pass, and asking for a muted response.

Burns said the Turks have not been threatening anything specific in response to the vote, and that he hopes the disappointment can be limited to statements.

"The Turkish government leaders know there is a separation of powers in the United States, that today's action was an action by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that this was not an action supported by President Bush and the executive branch of our government," he said.

The leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told reporters Thursday that there never has been a good time for the Armenian resolution, versions of which have been offered repeatedly."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 Bush administration has expressed concern that the vote could lead to Turkey cutting off crucial supply lines to Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said ahead of the vote that 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq.

"Access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes, and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will," Gates said.

Speaker Pelosi said the vote will not come very soon because of a full calendar, but she said the resolution definitely will be considered before Congress adjourns in December.
www.haaretz.com

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