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Speaker Pelosi hedges on genocide resolution vote

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Pelosi suggested a final vote on "genocide" resolution may not occur
  • Bill calling WWI killings of Armenians "genocide" opposed by Turkey
  • Bush: "More important work to do" than alienate ally over WW I killings
  • Opponents fear vote could hurt national security, effort in Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday said it "remains to be seen" whether a House resolution labeling as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by what is now Turkey will get a vote on the House floor.

The issue has split Democrats.

"There is reason to bring this to the floor," Pelosi, D-California, said. "Whether those who have been advocating it want to go to that place remains to be seen."

The resolution is vehemently opposed by key U.S. military ally Turkey. The administration and critics of the resolution argue that any damage to U.S.-Turkish relations could endanger supply routes to U.S. forces deployed in Iraq.

By a 27-21 vote last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted the resolution, which formally identifies the killings as genocide. Turkish officials acknowledge the killings of Armenians during World War I but vehemently object to the designation "genocide."

On Sunday, Pelosi told ABC's "This Week" that she intended to move ahead with a vote on the resolution, which she called "one that is consistent with what our government has always said about ... what happened at that time."

Asked about criticism that it could harm relations with Turkey -- a fellow member of NATO -- Pelosi said, "There's never been a good time," adding that it is important to pass the resolution now "because many of the survivors are very old."

"I have always supported it, [the resolution] as did the previous leader of the Democrats in the Congress, Congressman [Richard] Gephardt," Pelosi said. "Almost everybody supports this, because they know it is right. Whether it will come up or not, or what the action will be, remains to be seen."

Pelosi said, however, "other matters on the agenda that have to be dealt with first" -- issues such as modifying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and overriding the president's veto of a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, also appeared to hedge his pledge to bring it to a full vote before November's holiday recess.

"I said I thought we would bring this up prior to us leaving here," said Hoyer. "I have not changed on that, although I would be less than candid [not] to say that there are a number of people who are revisiting their own positions."

President Bush also called on House leaders to abandon the measure.

"Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that's providing vital support for our military every day." Video Watch Bush condemn the resolution »

Bush also said at a Wednesday news conference that "... one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire," the predecessor of modern Turkey.

Pelosi's comments come as five House Democrats on Wednesday underscored their strong opposition to the resolution, citing the militarily strategic importance of Turkey.

Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, Alcee Hastings and Robert Wexler of Florida and John Tanner and Steve Cohen of Tennessee urged House Democratic leadership to stop the resolution, which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week and is slated to go to the House floor for a vote.

"We believe that this resolution at this time takes away or impedes our ability to bring the most swift rapid resolution of this situation in Iraq to a conclusion that is beneficial to our country," Tanner said.

Hastings and Tanner, both of whom serve on the House delegation to NATO, also expressed their opposition to the resolution in a letter from the delegation to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The measure would "threaten our operations and our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," the letter said.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments fear the proposed resolution could harm Washington's influence with Turkish officials who want to launch military raids against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. Washington officials are concerned the Turkish raids would further destabilize the region. Video Watch how U.S. is concerned about using Turkish airbase »

Six former co-sponsors have abandoned the measure since last week, leaving it with 218 co-sponsors, said lead sponsor Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California.

If more members remove their names from the resolution, Hastings predicted that "it will signal that it's not the right thing at this time."

The nation is critical to U.S. war supply routes, said U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week. About a third of American fuel supplies pass through Turkey, he said, as does about 70 percent of American air freight and 95 percent of mine-resistant armored military vehicles set for delivery to Iraq.

Eight former U.S. secretaries of state also oppose the resolution: Alexander M. Haig, Jr.; Henry A. Kissinger; George P. Shultz; James A. Baker III; Lawrence S. Eagleburger; Warren Christopher; Madeleine K. Albright; and Colin L. Powell. They sent a letter to Pelosi last month urging her not to let the resolution reach the House floor.

"Passage of the resolution would harm our foreign policy objectives to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia," said the letter.

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"It would also strain our relations with Turkey, and would endanger our national security interests in the region, including the safety of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Although the former secretaries of state emphasized they were not minimizing or denying the "horrible tragedy" faced by Armenians during the period, they also stressed Turkey's "geo-political importance" as an "indispensable partner" in the fight against terrorism. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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