Ankara warns of 'consequences'

March 5, 2010 01:13

Turkish FM calls US recognition of World War I genocide matter of "honor."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Davutoglu 311. (photo credit:Associated Press)

Turkey warned the Obama administration on Friday of negative diplomatic consequences if it fails to impede a US resolution branding the World War I-era killing of Armenians as genocide.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country, a key Muslim ally of the US, would assess what measures it would take, adding that the issue was a matter of "honor" for Ankara.

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A US congressional committee approved the measure Thursday. The 23-22 vote sends the measure to the full House of Representatives, where prospects for passage are uncertain. Minutes after the vote, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the US

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

US President Barack Obama had objected to the resolution, but Turkey wants stronger action to block the resolution.

"We expect the US administration to, as of now, display more effective efforts. Otherwise the picture ahead will not be a positive one," Davutoglu told reporters. He complained of a lack of "strategic vision" in Washington.

Davutoglu said the Obama administration had not put sufficient weight behind efforts to block the vote and called on Washington to do more to prevent the measure from now going to the full House.

The measure was approved at a time when Washington is expected to press Turkey to back sanctions against Iran to be approved in the UN Security Council, where Turkey currently holds a rotating seat. Turkish cooperation is also important to US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also at stake are defense contracts. Turkey is an important market for US defense  companies, many of which had lobbied against the measure.

Davutoglu said the US ambassador in Turkey had been called to the country's Foreign Ministry for talks. The ambassador, James Jeffrey, told reporters Friday: "We oppose the resolution."

The foreign minister said Turkey was determined to press ahead with efforts to normalize ties with Armenia, but said Turkey would not be "pressured" into doing so.

He added that the vote had put the ratification of agreements to normalize ties with Armenia into jeopardy.

Last year, Turkey and Armenia agreed to normalize ties by establishing diplomatic relations and reopen their shared border, but the agreements have yet to be approved by their parliaments.

Turkey has been dragging its feet, fearful of upsetting ally Azerbaijan, which balks at any suggestion of the reopening of the border until its own dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is settled. The region in Azerbaijan has been under Armenian control.

Armenian-American groups have sought congressional affirmation of the killings as genocide for decades and welcomed Thursday's vote.

The vote also came at a time when relations with the United States — strained by Turkey's refusal to allow its territory to be used for the invasion of Iraq — had recently improved. Turkey was the first Muslim country Obama visited after taking office.

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