(photo credit: AP [file])
Turkey's top general has warned that military ties with the US will be irreversibly damaged if Congress passes a resolution that labels the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide, a report said Sunday.
Gen. Yasar Buyukanit told the daily Milliyet newspaper that a congressional committee's approval of the measure had already strained ties between the two countries.
"If this resolution passed in the committee passes the House as well, our military ties with the US will never be the same again," Buyukanit was quoted as saying by Milliyet.
Turkey, which is a major cargo hub for US and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned that there might be a cut in the logistical support to the US over the issue.
About 70 percent of US air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey as does about one-third of the fuel used by the US military there. US bases also get water and other supplies carried in overland by Turkish truckers who cross into Iraq's northern Kurdish region.
In addition, C-17 cargo planes fly military supplies to US soldiers in remote areas of Iraq from Turkey's Incirlik air base, avoiding the use of Iraqi roads vulnerable to bomb attacks. US officials say the arrangement helps reduce American casualties.
"I'm the military chief, I deal with security issues. I'm not a politician," Buyukanit was quoted as saying by Milliyet. "In this regard, the US shot its own foot."
Despite the general's strong words and the protest in recalling its ambassador, it is not clear just how far Turkey can go in expressing its dismay to Washington.
Turkey suspended its military ties with France last year after the French parliament's lower house adopted a bill that that would have made it a crime to deny that the Armenian killings constituted a genocide.
But there is more at stake for NATO's only Muslim member when it comes to Turkey-US relations. The Turkish military, and especially the air force, is heavily dependent on the American defense industry, experts say.
Still, Turkey has limited the activities of US troops in Turkey in the past, noted the country's former permanent representative to NATO, Onur Oymen.
When Washington imposed an arms embargo against Ankara in 1975 due to a dispute over Cyprus, Turkey ended all its logistical support to US troops and sharing of intelligence until the embargo was lifted, Oymen said.
US President George W. Bush has said the resolution is the wrong response to the Armenian deaths, and administration officials have warned of the potential damage to relations with Turkey and the harm that could be done to America's war effort in Iraq.
But Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure's timing was important "because many of the survivors are very old."
"It is a statement made by 23 other countries. We would be the 24th country to make this statement. Genocide still exists, and we saw it in Rwanda; we see it now in Darfur," she told ABC television's "This Week" program in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Republican lawmaker John Boehner said the measure was "irresponsible."
"Listen, there's no question that the suffering of the Armenian people some 90 years ago was extreme. But what happened 90 years ago ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington," he told "Fox News Sunday."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday "urged restraint" from Turkey and sent two high-ranking officials to Ankara in an apparent attempt to ease fury over the measure, which could be voted on by the House of Representatives by the end of the year.
At issue in the resolution is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Many international historians contend the World War I-era deaths amounted to genocide, but Turkey says the mass killings and deportations were not systematic and that many Turkish Muslims died in the chaos of war.