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Hours before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is to consider a resolution declaring that the World War I-era killings of Armenians was genocide, U.S. President George W. Bush voiced his opposition to the move saying it would do “great harm” to ties with key ally Turkey.

“I urge members to oppose the Armenian genocide resolution now being considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Bush said.

Prior to Bush’s statement, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday the congressional bid would be “very problematic” for ties with Turkey and for Middle East peace.

In comments echoed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rice also said the House of Representatives resolution would be “very destabilizing for our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Speaking after White House talks between the two top officials and President George W. Bush, Rice said she sympathized with the plight of the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

“But the passage of this resolution at this time would, indeed, be very problematic for everything that we’re trying to do in the Middle East because we are very dependent on a good Turkish strategic ally for this,” she said.

Turkey has already warned that passage of the resolution could force it to bar the United States from a key military base in its south, and Gates noted that about 70 percent of all US air cargo going into Iraq goes through 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,” the Pentagon chief said.

Fully 95 percent of tough new mine-resistant vehicles destined for US forces in Iraq also transit through Turkey, he added.

“And so our heavy dependence on the Turks for access is really the reason that the (military) commanders raise this and why we're so concerned about the resolution.”

But the measure has strong backing among US lawmakers including the chamber’s Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Turkey categorically rejects Armenians’ claims that 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in systematic deportations and killings during 1915-1918 as the Ottoman Empire was breaking up.

“We have encouraged the Turkish government to work with the Armenian government to put together a way to overcome and reconcile this horrible past and these terrible differences,” Rice said. “We believe there’s some improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations.”

Talking to RFE/RL on Wednesday, Elizabeth Chouldjian, Communications Director for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), denied reports about a proposal made to postpone the consideration of the resolution by the Committee and added, “As always we are optimistic because we know that the House majority will support the Armenian genocide resolution.” Chouldjian hopes that after the passage of the resolution by the Committee the issue will also be considered by the full House in November.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Assembly of America on Tuesday issued a statement strongly encouraging members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve the Armenian genocide resolution, which it said would “affirm the historical truth of the Armenian Genocide.”

In a letter to the committee’s Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) and top Republican member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said: “We have a unique opportunity this Congress, while there are still survivors of the Armenian Genocide living among us, to irrevocably and unequivocally reaffirm this fact of history.”

Also on Tuesday, Congressman Adam Schiff (D - CA) told RFE/RL’s Los Angeles-based reporter he hopes the resolution will be adopted not only by the Committee, but also by the full House.

(AFP, RFE/RL)
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