By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 11, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today expressed concern over the state of U.S.-Turkey relations, a day after Congress passed a symbolic measure that considers Turkey guilty of waging a genocide campaign against Armenians in World War II. Despite appeals from President Bush and other top U.S. officials to reject the measure, the U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday voted 27 to 21 in favor of a nonbinding resolution that characterized the mass killings of some 1.5 million Armenians, which began in 1915, as genocide.
"This is a very sensitive subject for a close ally, an ally that is incredibly important to the United States in terms of our operations in Iraq," Gates said during a news conference in London with British Secretary of State for Defense Desmond Browne.
Seventy percent of America's air cargo for the war effort goes through Turkey, along with 30 percent of the fuel. Ninety-five percent of mine-resistant, ambush-protected heavy vehicles being flown into Iraq go through Turkey as well, the secretary said.
In response to the passage of yesterday's damning resolution, Turkey has threatened to cut off its support of coalition operations in Iraq, a move that has enormous implications for American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Iraq and must be taken seriously, Gates said.
During a news conference before the House vote yesterday, President Bush lamented tragic suffering of Armenian victims at the hands of Turks. "(But) this resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday joined Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, in censuring the symbolic measure on the grounds that it would weaken the U.S. partnership with Turkey.
"The passage of this resolution at this time would indeed be very problematic for everything that we are trying to do in the Middle East, because we are very dependent on a good Turkish strategic ally to help with our efforts," Rice said.
Today, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called Turkey's cooperation with the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom "very important."
Asked about the intensifying conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as PKK, Whitman said all elements of the U.S. government are encouraging the two to reach a long-term solution.
The U.S. considers the PKK -- a militant Kurdish nationalist group that operates in northern Iraq and Turkey -- a terrorist organization. As Turkey seeks parliamentary approval for a military incursion across Iraq's borders against the guerrilla group, the Defense Department is encouraging the feuding factions to work through their differences.
There are no plans right now to ratchet up U.S. military force at trouble zones along the Turkish-Iraqi border, Whitman said.
"We are still encouraging both the governments of Turkey and Iraq to work through what is a very challenging issue for both of them," he said.