Genocide Resolution Riles Turkey, White House
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Our trip begins with NPR's Brian Naylor.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The Bush administration tried every tool on its workbench to dissuade committee members from approving the resolution. President Bush himself spoke of the consequences of offending the Turkish government in remarks he made on the White House lawn.
GEORGE W: We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. But this resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings. And it's passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.
NAYLOR: Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a similar case to reporters. Rice said the resolution would, in her words, be very problematic for everything we're trying to do in the Middle East. Gates was more specific. He said top military brass, including General David Petraeus and Admiral William Fallon, had a view as central command fear of backlash by Turkey could harm the war effort in Iraq.
ROBERT GATES: About 70 percent of all air cargo going into Iraq comes - goes through Turkey. About a third of the fuel that they consume goes through Turkey or comes from Turkey. They believe, clearly, that access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey, would be very much put at risk if this resolution passes. And the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will.
NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, the White House.
DAVID WELNA: Members of Congress were squeezed by both sides in the Armenian dispute yesterday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Armenia's top prelate Karekin II to deliver the opening prayer on the House floor.
KAREKIN II: With a solemn burden of history, we remember the victims of the genocide of the Armenians.
WELNA: Here's Turkish MP Egemen Bagis.
EGEMEN BAGIS: It's not worth passing a resolution, which might please the Armenian-Americans for a few weeks, but it's going to have a very negative binding effect on Turkish-Armenian relations and Turkish-American relations for many decades to come.
WELNA: Would that negative effect mean the U.S. losing its access to Turkish airspace or supply routes to northern Iraq? Bagis said Turkish authorities might not have a choice.
BAGIS: Turkey is a democracy, and in a democratic country public pressure does matter. And if the public pressured us to do those things, we will have to consider.
WELNA: A short time after these exchanges, the resolution was up for a vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Chairman Tom Lantos warned fellow committee members they had a sobering choice to make.
TOM LANTOS: We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn this historic nightmare through the use of the word genocide against the risk it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States Armed Services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying.
WELNA: Some members were clearly torn. Indiana Republican Mike Pence said there is no question Armenians were victims of genocide. Still, he said, he decided to oppose the resolution.
MIKE PENCE: With the American troops in harm's way, dependent on critical supply routes available through an alliance that we enjoy with the nation of Turkey, I submit that at this time, this is not the time for this nation to speak on this dark chapter of history.
WELNA: Here's New York Democrat Gregory Meeks.
GREGORY MEEKS: We have got to clean up our own house. I've got a bill that's coming out, a resolution I'm going to put out shortly. Working on it now. Talking about the atrocities that took place of the Native Americans of this land. I've yet to see us pass a resolution to talk about them.
WELNA: But California Democrat Brad Sherman did not share such doubts.
BRAD SHERMAN: It is right for Congress to recognize this genocide. We must do it. Genocide denial is not just the last step of a genocide. It is the first step in the next genocide. When Hitler had to convince his cohorts that the world would let them get away with it, he turned to them and said, who today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians.
WELNA: The resolution passed 27 to 21. New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone acknowledged it had passed in committee by much larger margins when members knew a Republican majority would not bring it to the floor.
FRANK PALLONE: The reason that this vote was closer was mainly because the opponents realized that this is it. This is going to go to the floor.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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