Turkey's president warns Bush over Armenian vote

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ANKARA, Oct 9 (Reuters) Turkey's president has written to US President George W Bush warning of the damage to bilateral ties if Congress backs a bill recognising the 1915 massacres of Armenians as genocide, his office said today.

Congress's Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to back a bill on the genocide issue tomorrow and speaker Nancy Pelosi, a known supporter of the Armenian cause, could then decide to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

The Bush administration is opposed to the bill, but Congress is now dominated by its Democratic opponents.

''In his letter our president thanked President Bush for his efforts (to stop the bill) and drew attention to the problems it would create in bilateral relations if it is accepted,'' President Abdullah Gul's office said in a statement. It did not provide further information.

A senior lawmaker of Turkey's ruling AK Party, Egemen Bagis, was quoted this week as saying Ankara might cut logistic support to US troops in Iraq if Congress backs the bill. The bulk of supplies for troops in Iraq pass via Turkey's Incirlik airbase.

Turkish media have said US firms could also be blocked from winning defence and other contracts if the bill passes.

Turkey, a NATO ally of Washington, strongly rejects the Armenian position, backed by many Western historians and a growing number of foreign parliaments, that up to 1.5 million Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War One.

Ankara says many Muslim Turks as well as Christian Armenians died in inter-ethnic conflict as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

The bill comes at a delicate time for Turkey-US relations.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was today considering whether to allow a cross-border incursion into northern Iraq to strike Kurdish rebels there after 15 Turkish soldiers were killed in attacks in recent days.

Washington has urged Turkey not to send troops into mainly Kurdish northern Iraq for fear of destabilising the country's most peaceful region.

REUTERS SG BD1709

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