(Reuters) - Seeking to defuse a dispute with Turkey, the Obama administration has urged Congress to drop proposed legislation labeling a 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide. But a key House of Representatives lawmaker on Thursday held a hearing on the matter and called for a vote on it.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman on Wednesday to argue that the legislation could harm efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations, the White House said.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer also said President Barack Obama called Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday to urge quick ratification of a protocol signed last year to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations.
"Secretary Clinton called Chairman Berman yesterday and in that conversation the secretary indicated that further Congressional action could impede progress on normalization of relations," Hammer said.
Despite Clinton's appeal, Berman went ahead with a hearing on Thursday on the issue, calling Turkey a "vital" ally but saying "Be that as it may, nothing justifies Turkey's turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian genocide."
NATO-member Turkey has said its ties with the United States would be damaged and Ankara's efforts to normalize relations with Armenia could be endangered if the resolution is passed when U.S. lawmakers vote on Thursday.
"We are open to all options," said a government official when asked if Turkey would be willing to recall its ambassador to the United States should the bill be passed.
Ankara recalled its ambassador in 2007 for consultations after a U.S. panel approved a similar bill.
"But nobody should forget that the situation is different now than it was in 2007. We are in the process of normalizing ties with Armenia, so the stakes are higher," he said.
Turkey and Armenia signed a protocol last year to normalize relations but the papers are yet to pass through the parliament of either country.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Abdullah Gul held a phone conversation on Wednesday to discuss Turkey's position on the Armenia bill.
Muslim Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman forces but denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounted to genocide -- a term employed by many Western historians and some foreign parliaments.
Obama visited Turkey last April. His administration sees Turkey as a key ally whose help it needs in solving confrontations from Iran to Afghanistan.
"We are at a stage when U.S.-Turkish ties need maximum cooperation. Everybody should consider the importance of U.S.-Turkish relations for regional and global stability," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference on Thursday.
The non-binding resolution, to be voted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would call on Obama to ensure U.S. policy formally refers to the massacre as "genocide" and to use that term when he delivers his annual message on the issue in April -- something Obama avoided doing last year.