By Desmond Butler, Associated Press
Turkey's foreign minister warned the U.S. Congress that passing a resolution condemning as genocide the early 20th century killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians would harm relations with his country.
"Adoption of even a nonbinding resolution in either chamber would seriously harm our bilateral relations," Abdullah Gul said Tuesday as he wrapped up a trip to Washington.
Gul, speaking after meeting with top U.S. officials, described the possible resolution as an irritant to otherwise close cooperation with the United States on vital issues including bringing political stability to Iraq, preventing nuclear proliferation and connecting Asian energy supplies with European markets.
Even as the Bush administration says it will work with members of Congress to head off the genocide resolution, Gul warned that the U.S. government should not get involved in the sensitive dispute. "I believe that Turkish-American relations should not be taken hostage by this issue," he said. "I see this as a real threat to our relationship."
The administration also sees the issue as a threat to relations with Turkey, a secular democracy with a majority Muslim population and a key strategic ally. The administration has opposed previous attempts by members of Congress to pass resolutions recognizing the 1915-1919 killings in Anatolia as an organized genocide.
Armenian-American groups have been thwarted for years in efforts to get a resolution passed, but the bill introduced in the House of Representatives in January is thought to stand a much better chance of passing a floor vote. Armenians cite numerous scholars who contend that Turkey's predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire, caused the Armenian
deaths in a genocide. They have been adamant that the killings be recognized as among history's worst atrocities.
The Turkish government has said the toll is wildly inflated, and Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the disarray surrounding the empire's collapse. Turkey illustrated how seriously it takes the issue in October, when it said it would suspend military operations with France after French lawmakers voted in October to make it a crime to deny the killings were a genocide.
Gul made no such threats against the United States, which relies heavily on Incirlik Air Base, a major installation in southern Turkey, to launch operations into Iraq and Afghanistan. Incirlik was the northern base for warplanes enforcing no-fly rules against Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He also highlighted the two countries' friendship.
"We have strategic issues of our relations based on the values," he said. "We have many positive common agenda that will have all these issues and continue."
Before her meeting with Gul, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Turkey "a strategic ally, a global partner (that) shares our values."
In meetings with Rice and other officials, Gul raised U.S. cooperation on preventing Kurdish rebels from using Northern Iraq as a sanctuary and a base of operations against Turkey by terrorists.
The Turkish government has expressed frustration with level of U.S. help in rooting out militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, holed up in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Retired Gen. Joseph Ralston, a former NATO supreme allied commander, has been coordinating U.S. efforts for countering the PKK.
Gul warned against suggestions in some U.S. political circles that Iraq be split into three autonomous regions, which Turkey fears would create an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq and embolden PKK separatists in southeastern Turkey. "A soft partition of Iraq is a fantasy," he said. "Iraq does not have internal boundaries."