Thursday, 15 March 2007


WASHINGTON: The U.S. secretaries of state and defense contend
that the security of the United States is at risk from proposed
legislation that would declare up to 1.5 million Armenians
victims of a genocide on Turkish soil almost a century ago.

In joint identical letters to the speaker of the House of
Representatives and two other senior members, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the
resolution also could inflict significant damage on U.S. efforts
to reconcilethe long-standing dispute between the
West Asian neighbours.

The appeals went to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Rep.
John Boehner, leader of the House's Republican minority; and Rep.
Tom Lantos, the Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs

The Associated Press obtained a copy of one of the letters

It was dated March 7, two days after Armenian Foreign
Minister VardanOskanian was in Washington to visit Rice and
said afterward that "Turkish lobbying at a government level"
threatened to scuttle there solution.

A Democratic aide said Pelosi, who controls the House agenda,
has no plan to bring the proposal before the House soon.
The aide spokeanonymously because final plans have not
been approved.

A congressional staff aide, also speaking without attribution,
said it is understood that Lantos, whose committee would deal
with the resolution, was awaiting word from Pelosi. Both the
speaker and Lantos have been supporters of the legislation.

The dispute involves the deaths of hundreds of thousands of
Armenians during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, the
predecessor of the Turkish state. Armenian advocates contend
they died in an organized genocide; the Turks say they were
victims of widespread chaos and governmental breakdown as
the 600-year-old empire collapsed in the years before Turkey
was born in 1923.

The bipartisan resolution was introduced on Jan. 30.

Passage of the resolution would harm "U.S. efforts to promote
reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia and to advance
recognition by Turkey of the tragic events that occurred to
ethnic Armenians under the Ottoman Empire," the letters said.

They said the United States is encouraging "our friends in
Turkey to re-examine their past with honesty and to reconcile
with Armenia, as well as security and stability in the broader
Middle East and Europe."

Rice and Gates reminded the lawmakers of repercussions from a
vote in the French National Assembly last October to criminalize
denial of Armenian genocide. "The Turkish military cut all
contacts with the French military and terminated defense
contracts under negotiation, "the letters said.

Similar reaction against passage of the House resolution
"could harm American troops in the field, constrain our ability
to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and significantly
damage our efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia
and Turkey at a key turning point in their relations."

Turkey has NATO's second-largest army. The U.S. Air Force has
a major base in southern Turkey near Iraq, which it has used
for operations in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Between the
Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq war, warplanes from
Incirlik Air Base enforced a flight ban in Northern Iraq
against the Iraqi air force.

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