Turkey reacted angrily Thursday to a House committee vote in Washington to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as genocide, recalling its ambassador from Washington and threatening to withdraw its support for the Iraq war.
In uncharacteristically strong language, President Abdullah Gul criticized the vote by the House Foreign Relations Committee in a statement to the semi-official Anatolian News Agency, and warned that the decision could work against the United States.
“Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once more dismissed calls for common sense, and made an attempt to sacrifice big issues for minor domestic political games,” Gul said.
The House vote comes at a particularly inopportune time. Washington has called on Turkey to show restraint as the Turkish military mobilizes on the border with Iraq, threatening an incursion against Kurdish insurgents. On Thursday, Turkish warplanes were reported to be flying close to the border, but not crossing it.
The possibility of Turkish military intervention in Iraq against Kurdish separatists has long worried U.S. officials for its potential to ignite a wider war spilling from Iraq. On Wednesday, the Turkish government began the process of gaining parliamentary approval for crossborder operations.
The committee vote in the House, though nonbinding and largely symbolic, rebuffed an intense campaign by the White House and earlier warnings from Turkey’s government that such a vote would gravely strain relations with the United States.
In Washington, the Bush administration tried to ease the hard feelings between the two countries, and vowed to try to defeat the resolution on Capitol Hill.
“One of the reasons we opposed the resolution in the House yesterday is that the president has expressed on behalf of the American people our horror at the tragedy of 1915,” said Dana Perino, President Bush’s chief spokeswoman. “But at the same time, we have national security concerns, and many of our troops and supplies go through Turkey. They are a very important ally in the war on terror, and we are going to continue to try to work with them. And we hope that the House does not put forward a full vote.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would definitely take up the measure. “I said if it comes out of committee, it will go to the floor,” she said at a news conference. “Now it has come out of committee, and it will go to the floor.”
In Turkey, there was widespread expectation that the House committee vote and any further steps could damage relations between the two countries.
Turkish officials and lawmakers warned that if the resolution were approved by the full House, they would reconsider supporting the American war effort in Iraq, which includes permission to ship essential supplies through Turkey from a major air base at Incirlik, in southern Turkey.
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refused to say what effect the resolution might have on American access to the base, but he did not exclude the possibility of a policy change.