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Turkey Calls Home Its US Ambassador Over Armenian Resolution


The U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee's passage of a non-binding resolution calling the massacre of Armenians nearly a century ago a genocide has outraged Turkey, which on Thursday called back its ambassador from Washington for consultations. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on the fall-out from Wednesday's vote and the potential damage to U.S.-Turkish relations.

Relations between the United States and Turkey were already strained over the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ankara has also been vocal about what it sees as the United States' failure to do more to curb Kurdish rebels staging attacks in southeastern Turkey.

Wednesday's narrow passage of the symbolic resolution calling the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the early 20th century a genocide, now threatens to do further diplomatic damage.

Thursday, Ankara signaled its displeasure by calling back its ambassador from Washington for consultations.

Egemen Bagis, a senior official in the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), was visiting Washington on Thursday. He called the passage of the genocide bill a "vital mistake" that Ankara warned Washington against.

"Turkey's president, Turkey's speaker of the parliament, Turkey's prime minister, Turkey's foreign minister, Turkey's minister of defense, Turkey's opposition parties and their leaders, Turkey's NGOs and business leaders all warned the United States that this is a vital mistake," he said. "They all said there will be consequences, please don't do it."

Bagis told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington research institute, that the Congressional hearing that preceded the vote was broadcast live on Turkish television and that the Turkish people are outraged at being charged with the most heinous of crimes against humanity - genocide - without judicial process.

Bagis, also an advisor to Turkey's prime minister, says Ankara's ultimate response will depend on whether the resolution goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote and is adopted.

"Some members of the U.S. Congress yesterday wanted to play hardball," he said. "I can assure you Turkey knows how to play hardball. But now the ball is in your corner, you have to show us if Turkey matters. Show us on the fight against PKK; show us on bringing this to the floor or not bringing this to the floor; show us in other issues."

The passage of the Armenian resolution has antagonized Turkish leaders who feel they have been long-time loyal allies to the United States, but feel Washington has let them down, first in countering Kurdish rebels and now with the Armenian resolution.

Turkey has repeatedly pressed the United States to pressure its Kurdish allies in Iraq to crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which launches attacks inside Turkey from havens in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Both Turkey and the U.S. call the group a terrorist organization.

Turkey's parliament is expected to vote next week on whether to authorize cross-border offensives into northern Iraq to go after the rebels - an action that could destabilize one of the few peaceful regions of Iraq.

The Bush administration is opposed to Turkish military operations in northern Iraq and says it is seeking a long-term solution to the PKK problem" said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "It also lobbied hard against the Armenian resolution. "We don't think that this is the right response, and we don't believe that passage of such a resolution is helpful either to the cause of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or to U.S. national security interests."

Turkey could channel its displeasure into cutting off vital supply routes from its territory to U.S. troops in Iraq. Some 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for coalition forces passes through Turkey, as does a third of fuel supplies.

The AKP's Bagis reminded the audience of what happened after France voted last year to make denial of Armenian genocide a crime.

"Since the French parliament passed that resolution, French military aid planes have not been - to this date - not been given permission to fly over Turkey," he said. "Just imagine what that would do to the United States if we adopted the same decision. I'm not saying we will, it is above me. What we do will be decided in Ankara."

It is not clear yet how severe the harm to U.S.-Turkish relations will be, and whether it will be temporary or long-term. But Ankara has made clear that this symbolic resolution will have real repercussions.

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