Gates Expresses Concerns About Armenian Resolution, Turkish Action
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today he’s concerned the pending congressional resolution regarding Armenian genocide “has the potential to do real harm to our troops in Iraq.” He also called on Turkey to refrain from military action into Iraq, which he said “would create an international crisis and further undermine stability in Iraq.”
Speaking at his first news conference with new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Gates expressed concerns about a congressional resolution that declares Ottoman Turks’ 1915-1917 killings of Armenians a genocide.
President Bush reiterated his own concern over the measure during a news conference yesterday. He called on Congress not to vote on the resolution, which has heightened tensions between the United States and Turkey.
“It has the potential to do real harm to our troops in Iraq and would strain, perhaps beyond repair, our relationship with a key ally in a vital region in the wider war on terror,” Gates said today.
Gates said neither he nor Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan raised the issue during their meeting this morning at the Pentagon.
He told reporters that the measure, if passed, could drive a serious wedge between the United States and Turkey that hampers U.S. efforts in Iraq. He recalled Turkey’s reaction when the French parliament passed a similar resolution in 2006; Turkey responded by cutting off military-to-military relationships.
The U.S. war effort could suffer greatly if Turkey reacted similarly to a U.S. measure, Gates said. “I don’t think the Turks are bluffing. I think it is that meaningful to them. I think they see implications in terms of reparations and perhaps even borders,” he said.
Gates said he believes there’s “a very real risk” of Turkey putting restrictions on use of Incirlik Air Base in the southeastern part of the country if the resolution passes. He noted that 70 percent of U.S. air cargo, one-third of its fuel and 95 percent of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles bound for Iraq transit through Incirlik. “So there are real consequences here, and I think people are beginning to think about that,” he said.
The secretary said the issue boils down, not so much to the substance of the issue, but to timing and consequences.
Meanwhile, the United States and other countries are negotiating with Turkey to urge its leaders not to send troops across the border into Iraq to confront terrorists launching attacks into Turkey.
The Turkish parliament voted yesterday to approve military action. The one-year authorization gives the green light for Turkey’s military to move into the Kurdish region of Iraq to go after members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, who have been launching attacks into Turkey.
Gates urged Turkey to exercise restraint, citing the instability the action would create in Iraq and the region. “We recognize the harm and heartbreak caused by terrorist attacks across the Iraqi border into Turkey and are working with both governments to rein in the activities of the PKK,” he said. “We recognize that Turks are being killed by this organization -- innocent Turks, both soldiers and civilians.”
The United States wants to help the Turks deal with the PKK, he said, and will pass specific intelligence it gets about the group to the Turks. “I think that if we were to come up with specific information, that we and the Iraqis would be prepared to do the appropriate thing,” he said.
Gates said he plans to discuss the matter when he meets with Turkish National Defense Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul in Europe. “We are determined to work with the Turks in trying to reduce this threat to the Turkish people and the Turkish army,” he said.
Mullen said he’s encouraged to see Turkish and Iraqi government leaders addressing the problem. “Hopefully there can be some positive outcome from that engagement,” he said.