ANKARA (Agence France Presse)–Turkey–in its first retaliatory move–on Wednesday postponed a planned US visit by its army chief after a key US congressional committee adopted a resolution recognizing the killings of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The issue has sparked warnings by Turkey — a successor state to the Ottoman Empire — that the move could severely damage Washington’s strategic ties with a key NATO ally.
A military spokeswoman’said Wednesday that Turkish chief of general staff Huseyin Kivrikoglu had put off a visit to Washington in mid-October at the official invitation of the US Joint Chief of Staff–General Henry Shelton.
Asked whether the postponement was linked to the Armenian bill–the spokeswoman’said: "That is correct," but refused to give any details.
An official from the US embassy in Ankara told AFP that they had been informed of the visit’s postponement–but refused to elaborate on the reason.
Kivrikoglu’s decision came a day after the International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives adopted the contentious resolution–opening the way for its discussion on the House floor.
The committee’s decision came as no surprise to Ankara–but nonetheless unleashed yet another furious reaction from the Turkish foreign ministry–which called on the House to reject the bill.
"It seems that the committee members have not yet fully understood our warnings that the bill’s adoption will have repercussions on Turkish-US relations as well as hinder efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian ties and establish peace in the Caucasus," the ministry statement said.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer also reiterated his concern over the bill on Wednesday–saying that he hoped the House members would bear a "stance that would not harm Turkish-US relations" when they debate the bill.
The US State Department expressed regret over the resolution and appealed to the full House to kill it so as not to damage strategic ties with Turkey.
The Clinton administration and the US intelligence community which sees Turkey as a vital zone of influence–at the intersection of the Middle East–Europe and central Asia had already tried to urge the committee to drop the resolution.
Turkey has said that it is drawing up counter-moves against its key ally Washington and Armenia to be implemented if the bill is approved by the House of Representatives.
Turkish officials have refused to specify the measures–but said they would be on a basis "that will not harm Turkey’s national interests–will not play into the hands of Armenia and Armenian circles–and will take into account the special relationship between Ankara and Washington."
But an aide to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told AFP Wednesday that the measures would primarily target Armenia–which Ankara sees as the main actor behind efforts to recognize the Armenian genocide claims.
Ecevit will also ask his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov to use Russia’s influence on Armenia to give up efforts for the adoption of the bill when Kasyanov visits Ankara later this month–the official said.
Last week–Turkey’s military-dominated National Security Council said that Ankara was "gradually" taking measures against Armenian genocide moves.
"It is natural for more effective measures to be put into practice according to developmen’s" said the body–which includes high-ranking civil officials but is dominated by the military’s top brass.
Turkey also said on Wednesday it would allow medical aid flights to Iraq and may appoint an ambassador to Baghdad in moves sure to upset NATO ally–the United States.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry denied its plan to appoint an ambassador to southern neighbor Iraq was an act of retaliation.
“This subject has no connection with the bill in the hands of the US House of Representatives,” the ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.
Ankara had earlier warned the approval of the non-binding but politically explosive resolution would seriously damage ties between Turkey and the United States and would not help Turkey’s relations with Armenia.
“Appointing an ambassador to Iraq is an issue that has long been on our agenda,” the statement said.
“The foreign ministry is authorized on the timing for the implementation of the decision in principle which was taken earlier on this subject,” it said.
The ministry also said it would allow flights of medical aid to Iraq–a gesture that would allow Turkish planes to join an increasing number of humanitarian flights to Baghdad that challenge decade-old sanctions.
In a separate statement–the ministry said Turkey had stopped giving visas to Armenian citizens on entrance to the country and from now on they should apply to Turkish consulates abroad to visit the country.
Local media have reported a series of other possible steps–including withdrawing from planned talks with US company Bell Textron to buy attack helicopters in a lucrative tender and shutting off an air corridor to eastern neighbor Armenia.
Meanwhile in Washington–Turkish sources reported that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has allegedly refused to meet with a delegation of Turkish members of parliament in town to lobby against the Genocide resolution.
The same sources said that Hastert reportedly said he saw no benefit in meeting with the delegation.