State Dept. says it cannot stop genocide resolution

Armenian genocide resolution could go forward, despite White House opposition

Published March 17, 2010 3:57PM (EDT)

A U.S. congressional resolution that would recognize World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide could go forward despite opposition from the Obama administration.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told reporters there is no deal with Democratic congressional leaders to block the resolution. That contradicts earlier claims by the State Department.

"Congress is an independent body, and they are going to do what they decide to do," Gordon said ahead of speech at the Brookings Institution.

Turkey strongly opposes the resolution. It withdrew its ambassador to Washington earlier this month after a congressional committee approved the measure.

Gordon acknowledged the congressional committee vote had set back relations at a time when the United States is seeking help from Turkey to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. But he said the United States has not seen a deterioration in cooperation with Turkey on a wide range of foreign policy matters.

The Obama administration has urged lawmakers to keep the measure from a vote in the full U.S. House. It is not clear whether supporters of the resolution have enough support to bring it to the House floor.

"I recognize that we have a tough job ahead of us to garner the necessary support," said the resolution's chief sponsor, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

Gordon said the resolution is an obstacle for reconciliation talks between Turkey and Armenia. The two countries reached a deal last year to normalize relations and open their border, but it has not yet been ratified by their governments.

But Gordon denied the process had stalled.

"I really think that those two countries' leaderships are committed to doing this," he told reporters.

He said that the Obama administration thinks the historical issues are best addressed by the two countries as part of reconciliation talks.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

In a speech, Gordon urged Turkey to step up pressure on Iran, a neighbor and important trading partner. He criticized Turkey for not voting on a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding that Iran suspend construction of a once-secret nuclear facility.

"With respect to Iran, while the international community has sought to present a single, coordinated message to Iran's government, Turkey has at times sounded a different note," Gordon said, according to prepared text of the speech.

By Desmond Butler

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