Tuesday, March 27, 2007

US-Turk conference opens under shadow of Armenian bills

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Turkish Daily News

Senate panel to vote Wednesday on resolution condemning Dink's killing


As Turkish and U.S. government and military officials and businessmen kicked off an annual two-day conference on U.S.-Turkish ties with the mood overshadowed by a pending "Armenian genocide," Congress further upped the ante with announcement that a separate resolution may soon be voted condemning the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January.

The talk Monday was mainly on the fate of Armenian genocide legislations pending in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, whose passage certainly would hit the bilateral relationship.

"Everything has been said. I hope it doesn't pass," said Gen. Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of the Turkish General Staff, at a Sunday reception at the Turkish Embassy here opening the 26th annual U.S.-Turkish conference. The meetings, known as the ATC conference, are held jointly by the American-Turkish Council (ATC), a group of mainly U.S. companies doing business with Turkey, and the Turkish-U.S. Business Council.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül and Chief of the General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt have visited Washington in recent weeks to lobby against the Armenian measures.President George W. Bush's administration also opposes the resolutions, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently urging Congress leaders to drop the measure. The Bush administration says the legislations' congressional approval will harm U.S. national interests. The two resolutions pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate call for recognition of World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. It is not clear if or when they would be discussed and brought to a vote in either chamber.

In a related development, the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee is planning to vote on Wednesday another resolution condemning Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder and calling on Turkey to abolish a penal code article blamed for restricting freedom of expression and to launch diplomatic, political and trade ties with Armenia, according to the panel's Web site.

That legislation was originally planned for vote on March 6, but the committee's ranking Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who generally backs Turkey in Congress, objected to the measure's language, causing a delay of three weeks.Turkey indeed prefers if the resolution does not pass the Senate at all, but is particularly concerned over a reference to the term "Armenian genocide" in themeasure's background section.

Ankara fears that a Senate approval of the original text may act as a precedent for future congressional action.

Although President George W. Bush's administration, which has strongly condemned Dink's assassination, would like to see Turkey repeal the penal code's controversial Article 301 and set up good relations with Armenia, it also shares Ankara's worries over the resolution's reference to the Armenian genocide. So the administration is seeking to persuade the panel's senators to drop that reference, diplomats said.

For their part U.S. Armenian groups are putting pressure on the panel's members to keep the resolution's original language intact.

Acting on Lugar's objection on March 6, the committee's Democratic chairman, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the resolution's sponsor, delayed the vote until the panel's next business meeting.

The committee's Web site announcement said the resolution on Wednesday would be brought to a vote with amendments, but did not say what the amendments were. It was not clear whether the Armenian genocide reference would stay in the text.In addition to Saygun, the ATC conference's top speakers will include Economy Minister Ali Babacan and Gates.

The Bush administration is seeking to assure the Turks that even if the genocide resolutions pass, Washington's policy on Turkey would not change.

"At the end of the day, the U.S. policy will not change regardless of what Congress does on this," U.S. ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson told reporters at the ATC reception. "We would like to see the resolution not pass."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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