(Thomas Grove, Reuters) - A U.S. resolution that branded as genocide the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One will seriously damage U.S. Turkish relations, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.
NATO member Turkey, an ally crucial to U.S. interests in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East, has expressed its outrage at Thursday's non-binding vote in the Foreign Affairs committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and recalled its envoy to the United States for consultations.
"The decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee will not hurt Turkey, but it will greatly harm bilateral relations, interests and vision. Turkey will not be the one who loses," said Erdogan, speaking at a summit of Turkish businessmen.
The Obama administration made a last-minute appeal against the resolution and has vowed to stop the vote, which was broadcast live on Turkish television, from going further in Congress. A Democratic leadership aide told Reuters Friday there were no plans "at this point" to schedule a vote of the full House on the measure, and a State Department official said this was the administration's understanding as well.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, facing questions about the issue while traveling in Latin America, declared Congress should drop the matter now. "The Obama administration strongly opposes the resolution that was passed by only one vote in the House committee and will work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor," she said in Guatemala City.
Turkey has said the resolution could jeopardize a fragile drive by Turkey and Armenia to end a century of hostilities and lead to further instability in the south Caucasus, a region crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines to Europe. Turkey's ambassador to the United States told journalists upon his return on Saturday it was unclear when he would head back to Washington following his talks with the president, prime minister and foreign minister.
"I will return when the time is right ... We will have to wait and see," Namik Tan said. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted in a media report as saying that the consultations could last "a long time."
The resolution urges Obama to use the term "genocide" when he delivers his annual message on the Armenian massacres in April. Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks 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.
Some analysts fear the vote may alienate Turkey at a time when there are concerns that its warmer ties with Syria, Iran and Russia, could herald a shift away from its traditional Western allies. Commentators had said the bill could affect Washington's use of the Incirlik air base in southeast Turkey. Incirlik is vital in logistical support for U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Turkey is a transit route for U.S. troops going to and from Iraq, and the country has 1,700 non-combat troops in Afghanistan. Ankara has also played a key role in Obama's strategy to get Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together in fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants in their borders and has hosted high-level talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan.