Obama holds warm meeting with Turkey's prime minister

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday met with President Barack Obama at the White House, demonstrating a comfortable relationship that worries some Armenian-American activists.

The activists and their congressional allies emphasize passing an Armenian genocide resolution. But among U.S. and Turkish strategic thinkers, the long-stalled resolution seems a low priority, if not an outright impediment in the face of bigger problems.

“Turkey and the United States enjoy a special partnership,” Erdogan told reporters after meeting with Obama. “Terrorism is our common enemy, and we are doing everything in our capacity to ensure success in our joint struggle.”

The life-and-death stakes were driven home Monday, as seven Turkish soldiers were killed in an ambush near the northern Turkish city of Tokat.

Speaking through an interpreter, in an ornate hotel room crowded with Turkish reporters, Erdogan sidestepped questions about whether he explicitly raised the Armenian genocide resolution issue with Obama.

Repeatedly, though, Turkish officials have stressed through diplomatic, political and economic channels that they would react viscerally to passage of a congressional genocide resolution. The White House meetings Monday further underscored the multi-faceted nature of relations between the two countries.

Obama and Erdogan talked about Turkey’s role in NATO and in Afghanistan, where Turkey currently has 1,750 soldiers helping train Afghan police. The president and prime minister also discussed Turkey’s cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and working with Iran, two countries with which Turkey shares borders totaling 529 miles.

“I am incredibly optimistic about the prospect of stronger and stronger ties between the United States and Turkey,” Obama said.

Erdogan’s meeting with President Barack Obama included a coveted working luncheon. It followed up on Obama’s earlier visit to Turkey, where the president addressed the nation’s parliament.

“The meeting was based on mutual trust and mutual sincerity,” Erdogan said.

Obama said Monday that he “encouraged” Erdogan to continue along the path of normalizing relations with Armenia. The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers signed a protocol setting out the stages for normalizing relations, but so far neither country’s parliament has ratified the protocol.

The White House meetings occurred as lawmakers from regions with large Armenian-American populations push an Armenian genocide resolution. So far, the political odds seem stacked against them. Already, Obama has backtracked from his Armenian genocide pledge made during the campaign.

“In April, President Obama missed the opportunity to regain the moral high ground on ending the cycle of genocide,” declared Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

The genocide resolution introduced March 17 by Reps. George Radanovich, R-Calif., and other lawmakers so far has 135 House co-sponsors. The resolution states that “the Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed.”

Many historians have likewise applied the term “genocide,” but Turkish officials challenge use of the word.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t bring the diplomatically dicey resolution up for a vote unless it gains at least 218 co-sponsors, a majority of the House.

Last Congress, the genocide resolution ended up with 212 co-sponsors. Twenty five House members withdrew their sponsorship of the resolution last year after hearing concerns raised by the Pentagon, State Department and others fearful of the dire consequences for U.S. national security.

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