WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the prospects of a vote on Armenian genocide were uncertain, after several members pulled their support amid fears it would cripple U.S. relations with Turkey.
"Whether it will come up or not, or what the action will be, remains to be seen," Pelosi told reporters.
The House proposal, which would label as genocide the killing of Armenians a century ago by Ottoman Turks, has inflamed U.S. tensions with Turkey, which says the death toll has been inflated and was the result of civil unrest, not genocide. Support for the nonbinding resolution deteriorated this week after Turkey recalled its U.S. ambassador to Ankara and several lawmakers spoke out against it.
A member of NATO, Turkey also is considered a rare Muslim ally to the United States in its war on terrorism. A U.S.-run air base there has facilitated the flow of most cargo to American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat considered influential on military affairs, said his party's leadership miscalculated support for the resolution. He predicted that such a vote would easily fail.
"If it came to the floor today, it would not pass," with some 55 to 60 Democrats opposing the measure, Murtha told reporters. As of Thursday, House Democrats will hold a 233-200 majority.
Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to hold off on a vote at least until she gets a better idea of how many House members will support it -- a task assumed behind the scenes by the resolution's primary co-sponsors, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
"While a few members have withdrawn their support for the resolution, the truth is on our side, and support for the resolution remains high," Schiff said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. "As with almost all legislation in Congress, there are many members who are not listed as co-sponsors of the resolution but support the measure."
In a White House news conference on Wednesday, Bush warned lawmakers against further inflaming U.S. relations with Turkey. On the same day, Turkey's parliament approved a possible offensive in northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels known as the PKK; Bush said he opposes such military action.
With all the pressing responsibilities facing the nation, "one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire," Bush said.
Said Murtha: "We don't have the number of allies we used to have. We've lost so much credibility worldwide."
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said there have been two to three battalions of Turkish forces just across the border in Iraq, in a valley south of the mountains where the PKK is known to operate. That presence, he said, goes back to the late 1990s, and has been widely known by the U.S. and the Iraqis. A battalion is generally about 800 soldiers.
Morrell said the Turkish troops are limited to information gathering, and are largely confined to their base with only limited travel. Their movements, he said, are coordinated with the U.S. and the Iraqis.