Obama Administration silent on Genocide resolution

Clinton sidesteps issue ahead of committee vote

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday February 26, 2010

Hillary Clinton on Feb. 26. State Dept.

Washington - The Obama Administration, unlike its predecessors, has not opposed congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide, Armenian American advocates noted this week following several remarks by senior officials.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made no direct reference to the resolution when she was asked on February 26 whether its consideration would have a negative effect on U.S.-Turkey and Armenia-Turkey relations, as the Turkish government, its American lobbyists and, in the past, the State Department have long argued.

In her response to a question from Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), a resolution opponent, Sec. Clinton said that U.S. remained focused on assisting "Armenia and Turkey in their efforts [to establish normal relations] and we would like to continue to support that effort and not be diverted in any way at all."

When asked for a reaction Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee recalled comments by President Barack Obama last year about the importance of Turkey facing its past, as well as Mrs. Clinton's own commitment to congressional affirmation as senator.

"With present Turkish leaders doing all they can to deny the truth and thereby setting back both Armenia-Turkey normalization and genocide prevention globally, congressional consideration is hardly a diversion," Mr. Vartian said.

In her remarks, Mrs. Clinton recalled that "last year in his Armenia Remembrance Day statement, President Obama made clear that our interest remains a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts related to historical events.

She added however that "the best way to do that - with all respect - is for Armenian and Turkish people themselves to address their past as part of their efforts to move forward."

A break with past administrations

Mrs. Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the same committee that will vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution on March 4. The resolution requires committee endorsement before it can come to the House floor.

Both Bush and Clinton Administrations argued vocally against congressional consideration of past resolutions when they came to vote.

Most recently, in October 2007 President George W. Bush personally lobbied members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to vote against the measure and made a televised public statement against the resolution on the day of the committee vote.

Even before that then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who is now with the Obama Administration) sent a joint letter opposing the congressional vote; earlier a similar letter came from half a dozen former secretaries of state.

"The Obama Administration hasn't done that and it's a clear break from the past," said Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Mr. Hamparian also recalled that when asked about the resolution recently Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasia Philip Gordon and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey similarly declined to criticize it.

Clinton calling Ankara, Yerevan, Baku

When asked by Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) at the same hearing if U.S. should appoint a dedicated envoy for Armenia-Turkey talks, Mrs. Clinton remarked that she has been personally involved in the effort to achieve normalization "without pre-conditions and within a reasonable timeframe."

"I was deeply involved in negotiations in Zurich some months ago that led to the signing of the protocols," the Secretary of State said and added that "I am on the phone probably more with the leadership in Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan than any part of the world on a regular basis."

"We are very committed to doing everything we can both in furthering the protocols, the normalization between Armenia and Turkey, and working for a durable, diplomatic solution of a conflict over Nagorno Karabakh," Sec. Clinton went on to say.

"That is not a pre-condition for the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, but it is essential for the long-term regional stability in the Caucasus."

Congressional committee to vote March 4

Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), also a long-time proponent of congressional affirmation, has scheduled a committee vote on the House Resolution 252 for March 4.

The vote is due to come nearly a year after the resolution was first introduced. It has since gained the endorsement of 138 members of the House of Representatives. But only 16 of these 138 members seat on the 46-member Foreign Affairs Committee.

At the same time, 23 of the current committee members had voted for the Genocide resolution in its previous iteration in 2007 and another two current supporters were not committee members in the previous Congress.

Past supporters who had not yet signed on to H. Res. 252 include Reps. Eni Faleomavega (D-A.S.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Gene Green (D-Tex.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.).

Congress-wide, the Genocide resolution has about 70 to 80 fewer supporters than its predecessor measure did in 2007.

Despite this ebbing of support and continued lobbying by the Turkish government against the resolution, Armenian Americans remain optimistic about the vote's outcome.

"When the resolution is passed next week," Mr. Vartian predicted "the Committee will have sent a powerful message to the Turkish government that the U.S. Congress will not be intimidated."

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