October 14, 2007 / 11:02 PM / 12 years ago

Turkish army chief says U.S. ties at risk

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s powerful military chief said on Sunday if the U.S. Congress approved a resolution branding the 1915 killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks genocide ties between the NATO allies would never be the same again.

Ankara is a crucial ally for Washington which relies on Turkey as a logistical base for the war in Iraq.

Some analysts believe the vote could weaken Washington’s influence over Turkey and increase the likelihood of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish separatist rebels who use the territory to stage attacks into Turkey.

“If the resolution that has passed in the U.S. committee is accepted by the assembly of the House of Representatives our military relations with the United States can never be the same again,” chief of General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, told newspaper Milliyet.

The top Democrat in the House of Representatives said on Sunday she intended to press ahead with the resolution, despite White House concerns it would damage relations with Turkey.

“I said if it passed the committee that we would bring it to the floor,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview on ABC television’s “This Week”.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto criticised Pelosi for pursuing the resolution .

“We continue to strongly to oppose this resolution which may do grave harm to U.S.-Turkish relations and to U.S. interests in Europe and the Middle East,” Fratto said in Crawford, Texas where President George W. Bush was spending the weekend at his ranch.

RICE URGES RESTRAINT

The Turkish government is to seek approval from parliament this week for a major operation against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in the Iraqi mountains.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Saturday she had urged the Turkish government to refrain from any major military operation there. U.S. officials fear such a move could destabilise a relatively peaceful area of Iraq.

Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, told Al Jazeera television on Sunday the issue of the PKK could not be solved militarily.

“Our view is that since this issue cannot be solved through war we should seek a political solution,” Barzani said.

Turkish artillery fired shells into a village in northern Iraq late on Saturday, witnesses said, the latest bout of shelling of the mountainous border area where separatist guerrillas are believed to hide out.

Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it began its armed struggle for a homeland in southeastern Turkey in 1984.

Ankara recalled its ambassador from the United States for consultations after the U.S. congressional committee vote, which was condemned in predominantly Muslim but secular Turkey.

The House of Representatives is due to vote on the symbolic measure, sponsored by a California lawmaker whose district has a large Armenian-American constituency, by mid-November.

Potential retaliatory moves by Turkey could include blocking U.S. access to the Incirlik air base, cancelling procurement contracts, denying airspace to U.S. aircraft and halting joint military exercises, diplomats say.

Turkey rejects the Armenian position, backed by many Western historians and some foreign parliaments, that up to 1.5 million Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

Turkey says many Muslim Turks died alongside Christian Armenians in inter-ethnic conflict in World War One.

Additional reporting by Gareth Jones in Ankara, Mark Felsenthal in Washington, Caren Bohan in Crawford, Texas and Lin Noueihed in Dubai

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