US shows no sign of backing down on Armenian issue

Obama administration official says there is no deal with Democratic congressional leaders to block genocide resolution.

March 17, 2010 19:25
2 minute read.
In this April 24, 2009 file photo, Armenians gathe

armenian genocide 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — A US congressional resolution that would recognize Ottoman era killings of Armenians as genocide could go forward despite opposition from the Obama administration.

US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told reporters that there is no deal with Democratic congressional leaders to block the resolution. That contradicts earlier claims by the State Department.

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"Congress is an independent body and they are going to do what they decide to do," Gordon said ahead of speech at the Brookings Institution.

Turkey strongly opposes the resolution. It withdrew its ambassador to Washington this month after a congressional committee approved the measure. The Obama administration has urged lawmakers not to allow it to proceed to a vote by the whole House of Representatives.

It is not clear that proponents of the resolution have sufficient support to pass it or that the leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, is prepared to bring it to the floor for a vote.

"I recognize that we have a tough job ahead of us to garner the necessary support," said the resolution's chief sponsor, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

Gordon said that the resolution had created an obstacle for reconciliation talks between Turkey and Armenia. The two countries reached a deal last year to normalize relations and open their border, but it has not yet been ratified by their governments.

Gordon denied that the process has stalled.

"I really think that those two countries' leaderships are committed to doing this," he told reporters.

He said that the Obama administration thinks that the historical issues are best addressed by the two countries as part of the reconciliation talks.

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 genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey however denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Gordon acknowledged that the congressional committee's vote had set back US-Turkish relations at a time that the United States is seeking help from Ankara on reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions. He said that the United States has not seen a deterioration of cooperation with Turkey on a wide range of foreign policy.

A speech that was mostly positive on US-Turkish relations, Gordon urged Turkey to step up pressure on Iran, a neighbor and important trading partner. He criticized Ankara for abstaining on a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding that Iran suspend construction of a once secret nuclear facility near the city of Qom.

"With respect to Iran, while the international community has sought to present a single, coordinated message to Iran's government, Turkey has at times sounded a different note," Gordon said, according to prepared text of the speech.

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