The Bush administration will attempt to calm Turkey down after a congressional panel's approval of a measure describing as genocide the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the beginning of the 20th century. The genocide of Armenians from 1915 to 1917 became the first genocide of human beings in the 20th century.
After the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives defied warnings by President George W. Bush with 27-21 approval Wednesday to send the measure to the full House for a vote, the administration will now try to pressure Democratic leaders not to schedule a vote. If the measure is brought to the floor for a vote, it is expected to pass.
Hours before the vote, Bush and his top two Cabinet members other senior officials made last-minute appeals to lawmakers to reject the measure.
"Its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror," Bush said a few hours before.
Afterward, it fell to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack to enunciate the government's dismay at the event.
He expressed continued strong opposition and said passage of the resolution would gravely harm U.S.-Turkish relations and U.S. interests in Europe and the Middle East.
"The United States recognizes the immense suffering of the Armenian people due to mass killings and forced deportations at the end of the Ottoman Empire," McCormack said in a statement. "We support a full and fair accounting of the atrocities that befell as many as 1.5 million Armenians during World War I, which H.Res. 106 does not do."
Following Wednesday's vote, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said he would call the Turkish ambassador to Washington, and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would talk to Turkish leaders Thursday.
In a statement, the Turkish government said it "resents and condemns" the House vote.
"It is not possible to accept such an accusation of a crime which was never committed by the Turkish nation," the statement said.
"It is blatantly obvious that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs does not have a task or function to re-write history by distorting a matter which specifically concerns the common history of Turks and Armenians."
U.S. diplomats have been quietly preparing Turkish officials for weeks for the likelihood that the resolution would pass, and asking for a muted response.
Burns said the Turks "have not been threatening anything specific" in response to the vote, and that he hopes the "disappointment can be limited to statements" instead of punitive action.
"The Turkish government leaders know there is a separation of powers in the United States, that today's action was an action by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that this was not an action supported by President Bush and the executive branch of our government."
The Bush administration has expressed concern that the vote could lead to Turkey cutting off crucial supply lines to Iraq.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said ahead of the vote that 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq.
"Access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes, and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will," Gates said.
The vote also came as Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships attacked suspected positions of Kurdish rebels near Iraq on Wednesday, a possible prelude to a cross-border operation that the Bush administration has opposed. The United States, already preoccupied with efforts to stabilize other areas of Iraq, believes that Turkish intervention in the relatively peaceful north could further destabilize the country.
Turkish officials said after the vote that they would focus their efforts in Washington on persuading lawmakers to put off a further vote. But Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy said Wednesday's vote already damaged relations.
"There is no doubt that there will be a setback in our relationship," he said after the vote.
The committee's vote was a triumph for well-organized Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for decades to pass a resolution.
Following the debate and vote, which was attended by aging Armenian emigres, who lived through the atrocities in what is now Turkey in their youth, the interest groups said they would fight to ensure approval by the full House.
"It is long past time for the U.S. government to acknowledge and affirm this horrible chapter of history - the first genocide of the 20th century and a part of history that we must never forget," said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.
Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, is likely to come under intense pressure from the administration, she has signaled that they will have a hard sell.
Pelosi and the second-ranking Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, met Wednesday with Ambassador Sensoy but emerged from the meeting unconvinced. Hoyer told reporters he expects a floor vote on the measure before the House adjourns for the year.
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