Menendez Hammers Turkey’s ‘Historical Commission’ Proposal

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WASHINGTON–New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez pressed U.S. Ambassador to Turkey nominee James Jeffrey on Wednesday to explain the Administration’s apparent renewed backing for Turkey’s widely discredited push for a “historical commission” on the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The move comes despite the State Department’s pledge, made during the nomination process for U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch, to oppose efforts that would open to debate the fact that Ottoman Turkey used mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations to destroy over one and half million Armenia’s.

“We want to share our special thanks with Senator Menendez for, once again, shining a powerful international spotlight on the Administration’s policy of complicity in Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We are especially for his incisive line of questioning regarding the State Department’s flawed and inconsistent position on Turkey’s self-serving proposal for a historical commission. A clear illustration of the bankruptcy of the Administration’s policy on the Armenian Genocide was the nominee’s convoluted response to the simple question, posed by Senator Menendez: ‘If Turkey would be willing to recognize the Armenian Genocide, would the United States be willing to do so?’”

Ambassador-Designate Jeffrey’s confirmation hearing, held earlier today, was chaired by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who, in his opening remarks, cited his decades long support for Congressional reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Following Amb. Jeffrey’s testimony, Sen. Kerry led the questioning on the Armenian Genocide, asking if the nominee could “assure the Committee that the Administration is not supporting – financially, rhetorically, or otherwise – an effort to convene a commission to settle an historical debate [on the Armenian Genocide] – that in effect is not a debate.”

Jeffrey responded, “Mr. Chairman, as you have indicated, the Administration recognizes and mourns, and is very, very, very concerned about the historical facts, which include, as you said, the mass killing and the forced exile of up to 1.5 million Armenia’s at the end of the Ottoman Empire. We support, as President Bush made clear in his recent statement on March 24th, the open effort on both sides to get to the bottom of the historical facts and to move forward as part of a reconciliation process both to establish closer and eventually full relations and to work out these dark chapters in the past.”

Sen. Kerry followed up, asking if Jeffrey is, in effect saying that “we are supportive of the historical commission itself and its goal? Or are we supportive of simply maintaining the historical records?”

Jeffrey responded: “We are supportive of anything the two sides mutually agree on, Sir. And as part of any process, there should be a full and open review of the events of that time.”

Jeffrey’s response sparked a series of probing questions from Senator Menendez, who opened his remarks by expressing his “dismay” at Jeffrey’s answers, arguing, “that puts us before where we were when we had the Ambassador designee to Armenia [Marie Yovanovitch] being interviewed.”

Senator Menendez then quoted extensively from a July, 2008, letter from Asst. Secretary of Legislative Affairs Matthew Reynolds, issued to clarify various responses that U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch had given during her confirmation hearing.

The letter explained that, a proposed effort to bring Turkish and Armenian archivists to the U.S. is not a means to “open a debate on whether the Ottomans committed these horrendous acts; it is to help preserve the documentation that supports the truth of those events.”

The letter went on to note that “the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenia’s were conducted by the Ottoman Empire. We indeed hold Ottoman officials responsible for those crimes.”

Sen. Menendez, concerned that Jeffrey had veered away from Administration policy articulated in the Reynolds letter, asked “The historical facts, as I see it, have now been admitted to by the State Department and clearly stated as such.” And I don’t get the sense that’s what you’re telling us, so that puts a complication in this process. Maybe you can help us out.”

Jeffrey was again evasive, responding that, “what assistant Sec. Reynolds wrote is U.S. government policy and we stand by it. What I was trying to convey was that it is also important for Turks and Armenia’s to move forward on a joint effort to work on these issues to come to some kind of, to the extent they can, common view of the historical past.”

Menendez shot back, asking “Why would we support an initiative that ultimately doubts whether those are the historical facts? If the Turks seek to do it, that’s one thing. But why would we be supportive of an effort that ultimately undermines the very position that the State Department has?”

Jeffrey responded in generalities, noting “In conflicts such as this, Senator, we believe, and we apply this across the board in the many conflicts that I have been involved in, we have an obligation to the historical record and to our citizens to have our own views, but it is also important to encourage the various sides on a dispute, be it this one, be it others, to try to come to some sort of joint understanding of the past and a joint way forward for the future.”

Menendez then went back to Sen. Kerry’s original question once again. “Would you then, as Ambassador, be someone who would advocate rhetorically, financially or otherwise, that the commission should be constituted and move forward?” Jeffrey responded: “The effort that can be taken for people to review openly the facts of that period would be supported by me.”

Sen. Menendez would later return to Amb. Jeffrey for a second round of questioning, expressing frustration that the lack of “straight answers” from Ambassadors precludes Senators from making judgmen’s on key foreign policy issues. He then asked Amb. Jeffrey, simply, “If Turkey would be willing to recognize the Armenian Genocide, would the United States be willing to do so?” Jeffrey initially replied that he “can’t commit the Administration to any future action,” but upon further questioning stated, that while Turkish recognition would be important, “there would be other factors that would have to be weighed, such as our general approach to other conflicts in the region and taking positions. The relationship between Turkey and Armenia is a major factor in the policies we take, the words we use. But there are other factors as well, sir.”

Menendez ended his questioning on the Administration’s Armenian Genocide policy by asking whether Jeffrey would follow in the footsteps of Undersecretary Edelman and Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, who, according to multiple press accounts, last October, traveled to Turkey to “express regret” at House Foreign Affairs Committee passage of Armenian Genocide legislation. “Senator,” said Jeffrey, “I never have and I never will express regret. This is an independent and equal organ of the U.S. government and it deserves the respect of everyone, everywhere in the world.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden and other Committee members are set to submit additional questions to Ambassadorial nominee, who may be confirmed as early as Friday of this week.


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