Turkey recalls ambassador to Washington as Armenian bill crisis deepens
Turkey ordered its ambassador in Washington to return to Ankara for consultations over a U.S. House panel's approval of a bill describing the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians as genocide, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.
The ambassador would stay in Turkey for about a week or 10 days for discussions about the measure, said Turkey's Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman, according to the AP. "We are not withdrawing our ambassador. We have asked him to come to Turkey for some consultations," he said. "The ambassador was given instructions to return and will come at his earliest convenience."
State Department spokesman Tom Casey, said he was unaware of Turkey's decision, but said the United States wants to continue to have good relations with Turkey. "I'll let the Turkish government speak for itself," he said. "I think that the Turkish government has telegraphed for a long time, has been very vocal and very public about its concerns about this and has said that they did intend to act in very forceful way if this happens."
Private NTV television said Turkey's naval commander had canceled a planned visit to the United States over the bill.
Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, was invited to the Foreign Ministry, where Turkish officials conveyed their "unease" over the bill and asked that the American administration do all in its power to stop the bill from passing in the full House, a Foreign Ministry official said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill Wednesday despite intense lobbying by Turkish officials and opposition from the Bush administration. The vote was a triumph for well-organized Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for decades to pass a resolution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated: "It has come out of committee and it will go to the floor." Reports said a debate by the chamber as a whole was likely to be held next month.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated his opposition to the resolution Thursday, saying the measure could damage ties at a time when American troops in Iraq rely heavily on Turkish permission to use their airspace for U.S. air cargo flights.
Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated. "It is not possible to accept such an accusation of a crime which was never committed by the Turkish nation," the Turkish government said Thursday. "It is blatantly obvious that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs does not have a task or function to rewrite history by distorting a matter which specifically concerns the common history of Turks and Armenians."