* Citing Clinton Administration claims that its consideration would threaten American lives–Speaker disappoints Armenian community by withdrawing measure only momen’s before adoption by House.
WASHINGTON (Combined Sources)–Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert Thursday broke his pledge to bring the Armenian Genocide resolution to the House floor–acceding to the President’s request that he withdraw the resolution for "national security" reason stemming from the ongoing Middle East crisis. This action was taken only momen’s before the resolution was to come to the House floor for a vote–creating ire within the Armenian-American community.
Speaker Hastert–in an announcement explaining his decision–noted that–based on the concerns raised by the President–he was removing the resolution from the legislative schedule of the House. The Speaker said that President Clinton had raised "grave national security concerns" over the resolution–stressing that even the measure’s consideration would pose a threat to American lives. The President–in a letter to the Speaker dated Thursday–noted that bringing the resolution to the House floor "could have far-reaching negative consequences for the United States." The Speaker acknowledged in his statement that the resolution "would have enjoyed support among the majority of the House."
In a statement released after the Speaker’s decision was announced–the "596 Committee" said–"Turkish threats are not credible–but have nevertheless prevailed. Instead of succumbing to threats against American service personnel stationed in Turkey–the Speaker should have called upon the President to reject Turkey’s threats and put that nation on notice that it would be held fully accountable for the safety of Americans there."
The Committee also noted that it was "deeply troubled that the Speaker had allowed Turkish threats–as conveyed by the President–to prevent the House of Representatives from voting on a measure which he himself supports–which has progressed through every stage of the legislative process–and which–by his own admission–enjoys the support of a majority in the House."
In a statement issued Thursday evening Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.-27) said–"While I am personally saddened by this change–I remain pleased with our historic success to enact this resolution. Never before has this legislation earned even a hearing."
Resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide have been approved by the House in 1975 and–once again–unanimously in 1984. Similar bills were defeated on the rule or were pulled due to legislative maneuvers by opposing Congressmen in 1987 and 1985 respectively.
With headlines which read "House GOP Kills Measure on Armenian Genocide" (Los Angeles Times) and "Hastert Withdraws ‘Genocide’ Resolution" (Washington Post)–the American media covered the story in the Friday morning newspapers.
The New York Times reported that "in a telephone call late Wednesday and in a letter today [Thursday]–Mr. Clinton urged Mr. Hastert to withdraw the measure–saying it could inflame tensions in the Middle East–embolden President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and interfere with American efforts to stabilize in the Balkans."
The Washington Post wrote–"Hastert said he had little choice after Clinton appealed to him during a phone call Wednesday night and after receiving letters from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry H. Shelton–as well as Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen."
Both these newspaper accounts contradict a statement made by a Rogan aide–who told a local Armenian television program Thursday evening that the vote on the resolution was set to go–until the Speaker received the phone call Thursday from the President.
New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt–who authored the Friday report on the resolution for the newspaper confirmed to Asbarez that the Speaker–indeed–spoke to the President Wednesday. Schmitt added that his editorial offices received the Speaker’s message early in the afternoon. The Congressional Quarterly Monitor reported that the resolution was scheduled at midnight Thursday–hours following the Wednesday phone call by Clinton to Hastert.
The Speaker’s statement was released at 7 p.m. Thursday–minutes before the resolution was scheduled to be discussed by the House of Representatives.
Schmitt told Asbarez that the House leadership found themselves in a precarious situation–adding that they were looking for a way out–an exit strategy.
The Armenian Genocide Resolution has been cosponsored by more than 140 members of Congress and was the subject of more than ten hours of mark-ups and hearings at the committee level. It was amended several times to accommodate the concerns of members of Congress–had been approved by the Rules Committee–and was slated – as late as 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Thursday–for a final vote on the House floor.
In a statement on the House floor following announcement of the Speaker’s decision–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) expressed sharp disappointment with the Speaker’s decision–noting that–"If America is going to live up to the standards we set for ourselves–and continue to lead the world in affirming human rights everywhere–we need to stand up and recognize the Armenian catastrophe for what it was – the systematic elimination of a people. Commenting on the Speaker’s claim that he was pressured into withdrawing the resolution–Rep. Pallone stressed that–"if the House of Representatives cannot speak to our historical experience because of threats from a foreign government–then what message do we send to our friends and enemies alike?"
See Complete texts of the Speaker’s press release–President Clinton’s letter–and Congressman Pallone’s remarks on Page 2.