Administration Presses Congress to Block Armenian Genocide Bill – Rice-Gates letter urges House leadership to reject Armenian Genocide resolution, fearing Turkish repercussion

(AP, AFP)–A senior US State Department issued a forceful appeal Thursday for Congress to reject a proposed resolution defining as genocide the mass killings of Armenia’s under Ottoman Turkish rule. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Turkish officials have informed the United States that approval of the resolution could lead to shutdown of the US base at Incirlik or a restriction on US overflight rights granted by Turkey. Fried said the United States also has been informed that the Turkish Parliament would respond with "extreme emotion" if the Armenian resolution were approved. He added that such a step would undercut voices in Turkey calling for a "truthful exploration of these events in pursuit of Turkey’s reconciliation with its own past and with Armenia." Fried testified before a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe. He highlighted what he said were growing calls in Turkey for changes to Article 301 of the Turkish Constitution, which criminalizes "insulting Turkishness." The resolution, Fried said, runs counter to the views of the 60,000-70,000 Turkish-Armenian community which, he added, has been warning that the measure would "raise popular emotions so dramatically as to threaten their personal security." He also said the US fear is that "passage of any such resolution would close minds and harden hearts." In joint identical letters to the speaker of the House of Representatives and two other senior members, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the resolution also could inflict significant damage on US efforts to reconcile the long-standing dispute between the West Asian neighbors. The appeals went to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Rep. John Boehner, leader of the House’s Republican minority; and Rep. Tom Lantos, the Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Associated Press obtained a copy of one of the letters Wednesday. It was dated March 7, two days after Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was in Washington to visit Rice and said afterward that "Turkish lobbying at a government level" threatened to scuttle the resolution. A Democratic aide said Pelosi, who controls the House agenda, has no plan to bring the proposal before the House soon. The aide spoke anonymously because final plans have not been approved. A congressional staff aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is understood that Lantos, whose committee would deal with the resolution, was awaiting word from Pelosi. Both the speaker and Lantos have been supporters of the legislation. The bipartisan resolution was introduced on January 30. Passage of the resolution would harm "US efforts to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia and to advance recognition by Turkey of the tragic events that occurred to ethnic Armenia’s under the Ottoman Empire," the letters said. They said the United States is encouraging "our friends in Turkey to re-examine their past with honesty and to reconcile with Armenia, as well as security and stability in the broader Middle East and Europe." Rice and Gates reminded the lawmakers of repercussions from a vote in the French National Assembly last October to criminalize denial of Armenian genocide. "The Turkish military cut all contacts with the French military and terminated defense contracts under negotiation," the letters said. Similar reaction against passage of the 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."

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