House panel passes Armenian genocide bill

October 10, 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (California)

By Johanna Neuman

WASHINGTON -- Over the objections of the Bush administration, a congressional committee today approved a bill that would recognize as "genocide" the World War I-era slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians.

he House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 to back the proposal, which now goes to the House floor, according to the Associated Press.

The president had warned that passage could damage U.S. relations with Turkey, a key ally in the war against terrorism.

"Its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror," Bush said on the south lawn of the White House. "We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people," he said, adding: "This resolution is not the right response to these mass killings."

The contentious issue has been simmering in Congress for years, as Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district includes more Armenian Americans than any other, has lobbied for the bill's passage. This year, he has collected more than half the House's 435 members to his side -- including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has vowed to bring the bill to the floor for a vote for the first time.

The resolution calls on the president to ensure that U.S. foreign policy "reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity" to the issue and to use the word "genocide" in his annual April message about the killings.

Turkey denies that the killings amounted to genocide, saying that Armenians and Turks alike were killed in ethnic clashes after World War I. Turkey, a NATO ally, has threatened to cut off cooperation with the United States on a number of security fronts if the resolution is passed. The country has unleashed a powerful lobbying force, including former House Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.), to defeat the measure. The bill faces a tougher road in the 100-seat Senate, where Sen. Richard Durbin J. (D-Ill.) has attracted 32 co-sponsors.

In speaking to reporters against the measure, administration officials went out of their way today to recognize the Armenian slaughter. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the opposition stemmed from the danger to U.S. security interests, "not because the U.S. fails to recognize the terrible tragedy of 1915." She added that "the passage of this resolution at this time would be very problematic for everything we are trying to do in the Middle East."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said that about a third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq went through Turkey, along with many of its planes. Access to airfields and roads "would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will," he said.