WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) Turkish lawmakers visited Capitol Hill and their president has written to President George W Bush, warning of damage to bilateral ties if Congress backs a bill recognizing the 1915 massacres of Armenians as genocide.
The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee is to consider the bill on genocide today. If it passes the committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could then decide to bring it to the House floor for a vote. She has been a long-time supporter of the resolution.
The Republican president is opposed to the bill, but Congress is dominated by Democrats, many of whom back the measure. It has 226 co-sponsors, over half the House of Representatives.
In Ankara, President Abdullah Gul's office said in a statement: ''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.'' A senior lawmaker of Turkey's ruling AK Party, Egemen Bagis, led a delegation to Capitol Hill to warn that passage of the resolution would put military cooperation with Turkey at risk and endanger US troops in Iraq.
The bulk of supplies for troops in Iraq pass via Turkey's Incirlik airbase. In an interview with Reuters, Bagis noted that thousands of Turkish truck drivers, construction workers, engineers and contractors have been risking their lives to help the US effort in Iraq.
''This resolution will put your (US) troops in harm's way,'' he said. ''We will not be able to extend the current cooperation we are providing to you.'' ''If our allies are insulting us with crimes we have not committed, we will start questioning the merits of that endeavor,'' Bagis said, speaking in English.
NATO ALLY In addition to military cooperation, defense contracts and energy cooperation would also be put at risk, he said.
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, who telephoned Bush last week about the Armenian resolution, was considering Tuesday 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 destabilizing the country's most peaceful region.
Would Turkey listen to Washington's urgings? ''Tomorrow's vote (on the Armenian resolution) definitely will have an effect on that'', Bagis said.
Bagis said Washington should pressure the leaders of the Kurdish region of Iraq to hand over Kurdish rebels who he said had taken refuge there.
Reuters TB VP0455