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Turkey recalls ambassador to US after Armenian 'genocide' vote

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-05

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations after the House Foreign Affairs Committee recognised the World War I killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces as "genocide", despite opposition from the White House.

AFP - US lawmakers voted Thursday to brand the killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I a "genocide," drawing a sharp response from Turkey which immediately recalled its ambassador.

Despite fierce opposition to the move from Turkey and the White House, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the symbolic resolution by the slimmest of margins, 23 votes to 22, setting the stage for the bill to be put before the full House of Representatives.

The Turkish government, which had warned of serious repercussions for bilateral relations, responded by recalling its ambassador from the United States for consultations.

"We condemn this resolution which accuses the Turkish nation of a crime it has not committed," the statement said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged the committee not to press ahead with the vote for fear it might harm reconciliation moves between Armenia and Turkey and said she hoped their bid would progress no further.

"We do not believe the full Congress will or should act on that resolution," Clinton told reporters in Costa Rica as lawmakers went ahead with the knife-edge vote.

The non-binding resolution calls on President Barack Obama to ensure that US foreign policy reflects an understanding of the "genocide" and to label the mass killings as such in his annual statement on the issue.

The United States has traditionally condemned the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians, but has always refrained from calling them a "genocide," wary not to strain relations with Turkey, a NATO member and a key ally in the Middle East.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Mike Hammer, said in a statement that Clinton had called committee chairman Howard Berman on Wednesday to try to persuade him to shelve the vote.

A similar attempt passed the committee stage in 2007 but was blocked by former president George W. Bush's administration before it came to a full vote in the House.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters the United States was committed to promoting a "fair, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts related to the historical events of 1915."

But he said of the resolution: "We are concerned about its potential impact on relations with the affected countries."

"We do think that the normalization process is the proper mechanism within which to address these issues. We continue to work very, very hard on this."

Turkey's foreign ministry warned that Turkey-Armenia reconciliation efforts could be damaged by a vote on the non-binding measure.

Washington is a firm supporter of a tentative process between Turkey and Armenia to normalize bilateral ties and overcome decades of hostility. The two countries signed a deal in October to establish diplomatic relations and open their border.

Obama pledged during his election campaign that he would recognize the events as genocide, but disappointed Armenian-American supporters when he refrained from using the term in his message last year to commemorate the killings.

Obama spoke on Wednesday with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, "and expressed appreciation for his and Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's efforts on normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, and pressed for rapid ratification of the protocols," Hammer said.

Gul had called Obama to discuss "issues concerning bilateral ties and regional affairs," a presidential aide told AFP, without elaborating.

Meanwhile Berman, in his opening remarks at a hearing Thursday to discuss the resolution, called Turkey a "vital and, in most respects, a loyal ally of the United States in a volatile region."

Nevertheless he said, "nothing justifies Turkey’s turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian genocide," the Democratic chairman said.

"At some point, every nation must come to terms with its own history. And that is all we ask of Turkey," he said, urging his fellow lawmakers to support the legislation.

Date created : 2010-03-04


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