U.S. President George W. Bush has no plan to intervene with the top House of Representatives lawmaker to urge her not to bring to a vote a planned resolution to declare World-War I-era mass killings of Armenians a genocide, a spokesman said Monday.
The Bush administration has been lobbying intensely to persuade lawmakers to reject the resolution, which Bush believes would harm relations with Turkey. Turkey has said as much, promising that the document's passage by the full House would cause severe damage to relations.
"There should be no question of the president's views on this issue and the damage that this resolution could do to U.S. foreign policy interests," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto told reporters Monday aboard Air Force One.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as the top Democrat in the House controls its agenda, has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution, which was approved last week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Fratto said the White House does not want Pelosi to bring it to the floor; should it come to a vote, he said, "We will strongly encourage members not to support it."
Pelosi and other top U.S. Democrats Sunday brushed off Turkish fury and vowed to press ahead with a bill condemning the mass killing of Armenians decades ago as "genocide," to right past wrongs. Pelosi said possible reprisals affecting Turkey's cooperation with the US military were "hypothetical" and would not derail the resolution. Holding a vote on condemning the massacre, even many years after the fact, is "about who we are as a country," Pelosi told ABC television.
"Genocide still exists, and we saw it in Rwanda; we see it now in Darfur," she said on ABC television after the House foreign affairs committee last week branded the Ottoman Empire's World War I massacre of Armenians a genocide.
But the White House warned Sunday that the bill could bring "grave harm" to the already strained relations between Washington and Ankara. "We regret that the Speaker Pelosi is intent on bringing this resolution for a vote despite the strong concerns expressed by foreign policy and defense experts, including a bipartisan group of former secretaries of state, and our Turkish allies," Fratto said at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The bill is likely to come up in the full House in November. Although the resolution is only symbolic, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington last week and has called off visits to the United States by at least two of its officials.
The angry reaction has fueled fears within the US administration that it could lose access to a military base in NATO ally Turkey that provides a crucial staging ground for US supplies headed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Two top US officials, one each from the state and defense departments, are now in Turkey to try to cool the diplomatic row. "We are certainly working to try to minimize any concrete steps the government might take (such as) restricting the movement of our troops," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday in Moscow.
Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates lobbied hard against the genocide resolution, and the administration says it will keep up its effort to forestall a vote in the full House of Representatives.
US-Turkish military ties "will never be the same again" if the House confirms the committee vote, Turkey's military chief General Yasar Buyukanit told the daily Milliyet on Sunday.
House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said that he had repeatedly raised the Armenia killings with Turkish political and military leaders during his 26 years in Congress. "Never once in that quarter of a century has anybody on the Turkish government said this is the right time. In other words, there would never be a right time," he said on Fox News Sunday. "If we forget what has happened... then we are at risk of letting it happen again."
House Republican leader John Boehner said there was no doubt that the Armenian people's suffering in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire was "extreme." "But what happened 90 years ago ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington," he said.
"And I think bringing this bill to the floor may be the most irresponsible thing I've seen this new Congress do this year," Boehner said, calling Turkey "a very important ally in our war against the terrorists."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said there was "no question" that Armenians had been slaughtered en masse. "But I don't think the Congress passing this resolution is a good idea at any point. But particularly not a good idea when Turkey is cooperating with us in many ways, which ensures greater safety for our soldiers," he said.
Opponents of the measure fear Turkey may be a less cooperative partner in the war on terror and is more likely to plow ahead with a possible military incursion against Kurdish rebel bases across its border into Iraq, dismissing calls from both the European Union and the United States for dialogue. A government bill seeking the go-ahead to launch an incursion any time in the next year is expected to be submitted to parliament after a cabinet meeting in Ankara Monday.