March 29, 2010 / 10:49 AM / 10 years ago

Clinton makes pledge on genocide resolution: Turkey

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has assured Turkey that the White House opposes a congressional resolution labeling the World War One massacres of Armenians in Turkey as genocide, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The ministry issued the statement after a telephone call between Clinton and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday.

The United States is keen to smooth over relations with Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, and a key ally in trouble spots from Afghanistan to the Middle East.

Turkey recalled its ambassador in Washington after a U.S. House of Representatives committee approved a non-binding resolution on March 4 calling on President Barack Obama to refer to the killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians almost a century ago as genocide.

It is unclear whether the resolution will go to a vote of the full House of Representatives — or whether it could pass.

“Secretary Clinton emphasized that the U.S. administration opposes both the decision accepted by the committee and the decision reaching the general assembly,” the statement said.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said Clinton and Davutoglu also talked about Turkey’s decision to recall its ambassador from Washington.

“Certainly, from our standpoint, we understand the reasons why Turkey, you know, recalled its ambassador, and we hope that the ambassador will be returned as quickly as Turkey feels comfortable,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Clinton and Davutoglu had a “warm and constructive conversation, and both the minister and the secretary underscored the importance of our strategic partnership between Turkey and the United States,” Crowley said.

More than 20 countries recognize the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago as genocide. Turkey argues that both Turks and Armenians were killed during the chaos of war and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey now wants to be sure that Obama will not use the term genocide in an address scheduled for April 24, underscoring its concerns with a halt on high-profile visits by its officials.

Davutoglu told Clinton the congressional committee’s resolution had hurt efforts to improve stability in the South Caucasus.

While Turkey and Armenia are trying to normalize relations and open their shared border, progress is complicated by hostility between Armenia and Turkey’s fellow-Muslim ally, Azerbaijan.

Clinton said U.S. officials hoped Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would attend a summit in Washington next month on nuclear disarmament, the foreign ministry statement said.

Davutoglu said Erdogan would decide in the next few days whether to attend the April 13-14 meeting, where more than 40 world leaders are expected.

Turkey has offered to use its close ties with Iran in Tehran’s dispute with the West over its nuclear program, but has indicated it may not support a fourth round of U.N. sanctions being prepared by the United States and other Western powers.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Andrew Dobbie and Paul Simao

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