95-Year-Old Conflict Stalls Obama's Ambassadorial Nominee to Turkey

As U.S.-Turkish relations hit a lull, Sen. Sam Brownback has placed a hold on President Obama's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, possibly over a nearly century-old dispute that has idled in Congress for decades and served as a foundation stone in U.S.-Turkish relations.

While the Kansas Republican senator will not say why he's placing a hold on Francis Riccardione's nomination, a spokesman at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told Fox News, “I’m not going to get into it. It’s all about Armenia."

Though Brownback is retiring from the Senate, he has long held the belief that the U.S. Congress should scold Turkey for a so-called "Armenian Genocide" that may or may not have taken place during World War I.

Over the years, Brownback has sponsored the resolution, which has repeatedly gone nowhere, to recognize the atrocity allegedly committed by the Ottoman goverment against up to 1.5 million Armenians who were forced to migrate to the hinterland of the empire during the first World War.

In deference to the longtime strategic U.S.-Turkey relationship, no Congress has passed a resolution in both chambers and no president has uttered the word "genocide" in his annual April proclamation marking "Armenian Remembrance Day."

Candidate Barack Obama pledged recognition for the Armenian plight, but the administration's refusal to use the term "genocide" could offer Brownback a parting shot as he prepares to leave Congress.

"I rise today to inform the body that I have placed a hold on Executive Calendar nomination No. 1051, the nomination of Ambassador Frank Ricciardone to be ambassador to the Republic of Turkey,” Brownback announced on Aug. 5.

The gesture may be Brownback's last act of support for the Armenian American community, but it comes at a particularly perilous time in U.S.-Turkish relations.

Turkey angered the United States recently by making a side deal with Brazil and Iran over trading nuclear fuel -- a move that was seen in Washington as an effort to undermine U.S. lobbying for a new sanctions regime against Iran by the United Nations.

That was followed by a Turkish-flagged flotilla attempting to break an Israeli blockade on Gaza that ended with nine Turks dying after Israeli commandoes were attacked trying to board one of the ships.

That provocation follows increasingly vocal support by Turkey about its relations with neighboring Iran simultaneous with diminishing relations with one-time ally Israel.

When asked whether the Obama administration should take on the issue of a genocide resolution in order to get Riccardione confirmed, a State Department spokeswoman demurred.

"The administration puts forth the best candidate for the position. We will see what the outcome is," she said.