( DigitalJournal ) President George W Bush reassured Turkey's prime minister Friday that he opposes efforts by US lawmakers to denounce the Ottoman Empire's killings of Armenians as genocide, the White House said Friday.
Bush's phone talk with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as a US House of Representatives panel prepared to vote on a resolution on the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923.
Turkey vehemently rejects the genocide label and fights efforts by other countries to apply it. The Bush administration fears that the resolution would anger a key ally in NATO whose support is critical for stabilizing neighbouring Iraq.
"The president reiterated his opposition to this resolution, the passage of which would be harmful to US relations with Turkey," said Gordon Johndroe , a spokesman for Bush's National Security Council.
He recalled that Bush has described the events of 1915 as a tragedy, but believes that determining whether it was genocide is up to historians, not lawmakers, Johndroe said in a statement.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is due to vote on the genocide measure Wednesday. A similar bill is pending in the US Senate, adding to pressure on the administration to recognise the Armenian deaths not just as "forced exile and murder" - Bush's words in 2004 - but as genocide.
In a full-page advertisement Friday in the Washington Post, the Turkish embassy to the US called the pending legislation "one-sided" and warned it would "affect relations between the United States and Turkey."
A senior State Department official said US lawmakers risk provoking a severe backlash from Turkey.
Applying the genocide label would harm US interests, including "our forces deployed in Iraq which rely on passage through Turkey," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Friday.
He said it was a historical fact that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed or forced into exile from 1915 through the early 1920 - something recognised by Bush as well as former president Bill Clinton.