The Obama administration opposes a Congressional resolution that would officially acknowledge the Armenian genocide, and it is not using the issue as a means to prompt Turkey to move forward with a reconciliation initiative with Armenia, a top US State Department official said on March 17.
On March 4, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution that would recognize the genocide. The vote has caused a rift in US-Turkish relations; Ankara immediately withdrew its ambassador from Washington for consultations and threatened unspecified measures if the resolution advanced further in Congress. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The Obama administration had been relatively quiet about the resolution before the vote, in contrast to previous administrations that had energetically lobbied against the passage of similar resolutions. After the vote, however, top administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, expressed opposition to the resolution.
There has been speculation in Washington, Ankara and Yerevan, however, that the White House engineered the House committee vote in order to put pressure on Turkey to ratify reconciliation protocols with Armenia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. That is not the case, said Philip H. Gordon, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.
"We have no interest in using these votes as leverage or messages or anything else to Turkey. Our view on the protocols is clear, we want them to move forward on their own basis," Gordon said during a March 17 speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC.
"As President Obama has said, our interest is in a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts related to the events of 1915. But the best way to do that, we believe, is for the Armenian and Turkish people themselves to address this history as part of their efforts to build a future of shared peace and prosperity," Gordon said. "Further congressional action could impede progress on the normalization of relations. For that reason, we oppose this resolution."
Some analysts have speculated that the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia could, by alienating Azerbaijan, scuttle hopes for a US-backed natural gas corridor from the Caspian Sea through Turkey to Europe. Gordon vigorously disputed that idea.
"I strongly disagree with the notion that if Armenia and Turkey would ratify the protocols on normalization of relations, that it would have a negative impact on some of the other developments in the region that we also support," he said. "On the contrary, the absence of an open border and relations between Turkey and Armenia is an obstacle to an open energy corridor."
Gordon said that the United States does not link the issues of Turkey-Armenia normalization, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and energy. "All of them have impacts on the others, including in domestic [Turkish] politics," he said. "But we believe that because they are each inherently important we should do all we can to move forward on all of them in a parallel way and take whatever progress we can get."
Gordon also repeatedly criticized Turkey for not backing US efforts against Iran's potential nuclear program, including Turkey's decision to abstain of an International Atomic Energy Agency vote in November to censure Iran, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement that Iran's nuclear program is merely "rumors."
Said Gordon: "There are rumors, and there are what most of the world sees as facts. And the fact is, from our point of view, that Iran is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions."
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.