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Press Conference with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Rep. John Murtha (D-PA); Rep. John Tanner (D-TN); Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL)


Location: Washington, DC

Press Conference with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Rep. John Murtha (D-PA); Rep. John Tanner (D-TN); Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL); Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-TN)
Subject: Armenian Genocide Resolution

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REP. HASTINGS: (In progress) -- a strategic relationship with Israel and the United States. Another issue that causes me great concern is the importance of energy supplies and the Bosporus Straits. I've not heard too many people speak of that. If, in fact, U.S.- Turkish relations are strained further, what that will mean for a new supply route through Turkey that would help to reduce reliance on Russian gas supplies?

Turkey is a moderate, Muslim nation with a secular democracy, and it is geographically straddling the bridge between East and West at a time of great turmoil and uncertainty for the countries in the region. More than half of the cargo flown into Iraq and Afghanistan comes through Incirlik Air Base, and this base would be a key component of any plans for redeployment of our troops in the region. In addition, Turkey commands NATO's second largest army and her troops have served with us in Afghanistan and the Balkans. Just last week, the Turkish ambassador was recalled to Ankara for consultations. This, I would say, is an unusual occurrence, particularly between NATO partners and a move that sends a message to the United States that diplomatic relations between our two nations are clearly strained.

Secretary of State Rice, 8 former secretaries of State and 3 former secretaries of Defense have warned that passage of this resolution could imperil our national security as well as inhibit efforts toward reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. In the interest of time I will have a full statement that I will pass out. I continue to hear colleagues say that there is never the right time. But you know something, we were not at war with Iraq when these matters have been brought before us in previous times. And we are now in Iraq and Afghanistan and we must do everything to protect those troops.

I'd like to turn the mike over to my distinguished colleague from Pennsylvania, John Murtha.

REP. MURTHA: Thanks, Alcee.

In 1987 I opposed this resolution. I led the fight against this resolution. Bob Wexler mentioned to me, early in the year, that there was a possibility of this resolution coming up. Alcee Hastings talked to me. I talked to the president. I talked to the vice president. I talked to Steve Hadley. I talked to Admiral Fallon and General Petraeus. All agreed it would not be helpful to us in Iraq if we were to pass this resolution.

We don't have the number of allies that we used to have. We've lost so much credibility worldwide. And to build on what Alcee says about the amount of cargo, actually 70 percent of our cargo -- air cargo -- goes through Turkey. If they were to eliminate that or reduce our ability to use that base, it would cost $160 million dollars more a year, probably a lot more than that. We'd have to come out of Germany and I don't know where else.

It's not a matter of timing, it's just we have a good ally. This happened a hundred years ago. I don't know if it was a massacre or it was genocide, but you know, we have to deal in today's world.

Winston Churchill said in dealing with Russia in World War II, he said I'd deal with the devil in order to help solve this problem. Well we've got a problem here and it takes allied help. This is not something we can do ourself.

I just met with the foreign minister of Afghanistan today. He was a general in the mujaheddin and he remembers when I came over there and asked him to stop killing the Russians. He said we're going to kill every Russian that is in the country. This is when they were fighting against the Soviet Union. But the point I'm making is we need allies if we're going to win this war. And this is not a way to help us in an area that is -- we have very few allies.

The Turkish people are against this. It's a very volatile government and they're struggling. What will the Turks do? I don't know. They say they might close Incirlik. They say they may go into Kurdistan. I don't know if they'll do any of those things but they're already poised on the border. And it's not going to be helpful to us to have another part of Iraq unstable, so I oppose this very vigorously and I would hope it won't come to the floor.

REP. HASTINGS: Thank you very much, John.

John Tanner.

REP. TANNER: Thank you, Alcee. I am presently serving as the chairman of the House delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and I come here today in that role and I want to say that I don't believe this is about this resolution, the activity we're engaged in here. It is about -- our activity is about what is in the strategic best interest of the United States in a region of the world that is critical right now to stability. It is critical to our future, the United States of America's future, and we are fighting now two hot wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What should we do to protect and to promote our strategic best interests?

Most of us are focused, both Democrats and Republicans, are focused on how to bring the war, particularly in Iraq, to the most swift, rapid, resolution that we can do. Anything that impedes or takes away from that objective, in my opinion, should be put on the shelf. As Mr. Murtha and Mr. Hastings and also Mr. Wexler and Mr. Cohen say, and others, 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. And therefore, I think that our activity today in that light is well taken and I hope that the rest of our colleagues will see it that way.

Thank you.

REP. HASTINGS: Bob Wexler.

REP. WEXLER: Thank you, to my very good friend Alcee Hastings, my good friend and partner in many things. It's a privilege for me to be here with my other colleagues.

The bottom line is today as Americans we have more than 165,000 of our own troops serving in harms way in Iraq. That is the primary responsibility. The safety, the security and the well-being of our troops is the primary responsibility of this Congress.

We are here today when the Middle East is a tinderbox. Iraq is in chaos. Iran seeks a nuclear weapon. Hamas controls Gaza. Lebanon is on the brink. Syria continues to support terrorist activities and pursues chemical and even nuclear weapons. Our responsibility is to bring as much stability as is humanly possible and to avoid catastrophic loss of life, both American and that of our allies.

What we are asking is our own leadership to do what is right for the American national and strategic interest. This is an extremely difficult issues. All of us feel extraordinary sympathy with the plight and the catastrophic death that the Armenian community suffered in the World War I period. But our responsibility, the bottom line, is to do what is right for our national security and to take care of the security, well-being of our troops.

One last thing, if I may. Some have sought to make this a partisan issue. This is not a partisan issue. There are 5 loyal Democrats here today to speak out about our concern for America's national security. I have been a part of this effort on behalf of our national security for years. Jack Murtha, Alcee Hastings, Mr. Tanner also, for years.

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee there was essentially a divided vote. Many Republicans voted for the resolution, many Democrats voted for the resolution. Several Democrats voted against, several Republicans voted against. This is not a partisan issue, but ultimately this is an issue about America's national security and that's why we are here.

Thank you.

REP. HASTINGS: Steve Cohen.

REP. COHEN: Thank you, gentlemen. I'm the lucky one, a paper referred to the distinguished congresspeople that were going to come here and that's because of them. I'm just a freshman, as you well know. I got sort of lumped in there with Mr. Murtha, Mr. Hastings, etcetera.

I have had the opportunity to visit Turkey this year, as well as Baghdad where I was Sunday a week ago. When I was in Turkey I found that this issue was the first thing on every diplomat, political person's mind, the first thing they talked to us about. I'm from Memphis so I kind of relate to things through Elvis. It's bigger than Elvis. It is a big deal. It's above the full news front page every day and the Turks are serious about this.

They have been our allies. I was home this past weekend getting a coast tailored and my tailor told me he was in Korea. And I told him about this situation. He said, "I'll never forget the Turks. They were with us in Korea. They were our allies. They helped us."

And they've been helping this country for 60 years. They've been strong. When I was in Turkey I asked the Armenian patriarch in Istanbul what we should do about this. He happened to have attended the University of Memphis at some time in the past. And he said he hoped we wouldn't pass this. It would do harm to his people. True, he's in a difficult situation but it's real-time harm to people.

I've got the -- great consideration and understand the compassion -- or the passion. I've got the compassion for the people, the Armenians that are fighting for their ancestors. It was an awful thing. But these are real life situations and sometimes your heart has to give in to your head and do what makes sense for your country. And that's what I took an oath to do, was to support this country today, in 2007.

It will be harmful, as the previous speakers have spoken to our policies in the Middle East. It would be damaging to us in Baghdad. I asked General Petraeus about this and General Petraeus made a point saying that this would hurt our efforts there and it would be a serious mistake. Buck Rogers (sp), a general in Ramstein, Germany, repeated the same thing Tuesday, a week ago. So independent of the issue, it's just bad, bad, bad timing.

Thank you, sir.

REP. HASTINGS: Thank you very much, all of you. Yes, go right ahead.

Q You talk about Turkey and make it sound almost as though Turkey -- the United States needs Turkey more than -- (off mike).

REP. MURTHA (?): We need everybody. That's been part of our problem. You take Iraq. We have a coalition of the willing, there's nobody left. We need every ally we can get. They're important to our effort in Iraq. We've got 160,000 troops in Iraq. This is important to the U.S. effort in Iraq, period.

REP. HASTINGS (?): Let me follow up and say something to you that most people don't talk about. It's not about Turkey that we are here. It's about the American military. We are clearly mindful of Armenia's concern. But one thing that most people don't pay attention to is the extraordinary strategic relationship, military-to-military that the United States has with Turkey. John Tanner, who is here from NATO, can tell you about the immense importance of the alliance with Turkey as it pertains to NATO.

In addition to the fact when we went into Iraq we found that Turkey lost billions of dollars in economic commerce as a result of that. We also need that area because of the Bosporus, as I have mentioned. And not to forget that Turkey has something in the neighborhood of 1,900 soldiers in Afghanistan. So it is critical for us to not continue straining all these relations.

Yes, Dana.

Q You talked in a very passionate way about the state of the strategic (reasons ?) militarily. The House Speaker has made equally impassioned (speeches ?) about why this resolution should go forward for moral reasons, that the U.S. needs to be a moral leader in the world. Where do you -- two questions. What are you saying to the Speaker about what you want her to do, and then secondly, what are you all hearing from some of your former members who are working for the Turks and even the Turks in general? What kinds of efforts are they making in private?

REP. MURTHA: This is something I started a long time ago. I posed this in 1987. We only won it by, I think, one vote at the time. I think we got 220 votes and we had a 2 to 1 majority of Democrats in the House at the time. Tip O'Neill was very much in favor of this resolution. He said there's not very many Turks in his district. He was kidding at the time, but that's what he said.

This is not a matter of politics. This is a matter of American strategic interest. Our credibility is -- you talk about moral standards. Some of the things that have happened -- we go to war with no WMD. We go to war with no connection with al Qaeda. We go to war on the perception that there's a problem. And so our moral standing is pretty low in the rest of the world.

I think what I'm saying is it's important to us, if we're going to have stability in that part of the world, to have Turkey as an ally. It's a big country. They've been an ally for a long time. They're a good NATO ally.

I just think presently, at this time, I'm asked -- I wrote a letter to the speaker eight months ago and I said to her I think it's a mistake for you to go forward with this if you have it in mind. She called me in and we talked about it. Admiral Fallon, I think, talked to her. A number of people have talked to her about this issue and we have a difference in the strategic importance versus the moral problem. And she feels very strongly about it, there's no question about it.

Q Mr. Chairman --

REP. HASTINGS: Well, folks, you asked a question about former colleagues. You asked a question about former colleagues. I personally have not been contacted recently by any former colleague on behalf of either side.

The one thing that I do find interesting that the media has undertaken is to indicate how strong Turkey's lobbyists are and the efforts that they have put forward. I do not deny that that may have occurred. But I would also remind you -- and certainly in both my offices in Ft. Lauderdale as well as here, I have been lobbied very actively by the Armenians as well. So it is not as if both sides are not doing everything that they can to get the attention of the members of Congress.

Q Chairman Hastings?

REP. HASTINGS: Yeah, uh-huh.

Q This is -- if the bill does have bipartisan support, and reportedly the president does not want this bill, he's had frank discussions with the speaker also, will you or Mr. Murtha suggest to the speaker that perhaps this is the time not to bring this bill up, you can get something for nothing. It seems to me you're in the catbird seat here: "you sign SCHIP, we won't bring this bill up."

REP. HASTINGS: I hadn't thought about it that way, but -- (laughter) -- Jack -- (laughs) -- Jack Tanner can speak to what he and I did in reference to the speaker. And I can tell you that I spoke personally with the majority leader with reference to this, but not as any leverage, not at all. It's too important to the military for us to concern ourselves about leveraging.


Q But that's how the game is played, is it not?

REP. TANNER: Let me try to say this again. This is not about this resolution. People who are voting against it, if it comes to a vote, don't necessarily disagree with it. It is about what is in the best interests of America right now.

Now, Turkey is a member of NATO. I just got back from a conference in Iceland with the rest of the NATO parliamentarians. We need NATO now probably more than we ever needed them in the Cold War. Why? Because, as these other gentlemen have said, one -- the American people I don't think understand the commitment that NATO is making in Afghanistan that is relieving some of the operational pressure on American troops in Afghanistan. They're not doing as good as they should, but they are doing more than anyone else has ever done. It's the largest out-of-area expeditionary effort militarily that NATO's ever undertaken, in Afghanistan. Now, that's one thing.

The second thing is this whole area is critical. I think Bob talked about it. If we are going to maximize the political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop their nuclear program, we're going to have to have a unified Europe, a unified NATO to do it. That's why this is far beyond this resolution. This is not about Turkey, pro- Turkey or anti-Armenia, or vice versa. This is not about that. From my perspective, it is about the United States being able to bring, one, a swift -- hopefully -- resolution to this conflict in Iraq. We're going to need Incirlik to do that, to get those guys out of there, men and women out of there. We've got to have Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to do that. Everybody I know in America wants to see that happen -- in various ways, but they want to see it happen. We've got to have Incirlik; that's all there is to that strategically.

And secondly, if we're going to, again, maximize our influence in that part of the world, we need NATO, we need Europe, and we need not to meddle in something that happened 100 years ago. This is -- everybody talks about the timing. This is about the United States today, not something else.

REP. HASTINGS: Quickly, and then only two more questions. We have a vote.

REP. WEXLER: Speaker Pelosi has already achieved a significant victory; the consciousness in America has been risen, extraordinarily so, regarding this issue. And I would respectfully suggest that we can take this level of increased consciousness and turn it into something positive, which will be a greater effort to reconcile the Turks and the Armenians and break down the border closures between Turkey and Armenia.

REP. HASTINGS: Two more questions. We're late. Yes.

Q Thank you.

Congressman Murtha, is it possible you've already convinced Pelosi on this issue? Because she just said whether it would come to the floor remains to be seen.

REP. MURTHA: Well, I don't know that I convinced her, but I think that the members have convinced her. I think -- I must have had 25, 30 members -- Democrats come to me yesterday and say, you know -- very agitated about this coming to the floor right now. They have gotten the message. So I would say if it were to run today, it wouldn't pass. And I don't know --

Q Would pass or would not?

REP. MURTHA: Would not pass. If it came -- if it came to --

(Cross talk.)

REP. MURTHA: If it came to the floor today, it would not pass.

REP. HASTINGS: Last question.

Q Just a follow-up on that. Congressman, do you know how many Democrats would vote against it, even if you have a rough number?

REP. MURTHA: Last time I think we had 80, so I would guess 55, 60 Democrats at this point, today.

Q Would vote against if, you said?

REP. MURTHA: Yeah, today.

Q Mr. Murtha, one last question?

REP. HASTINGS: Thank you all.

Yeah, Dana, real quick.

Q Just one last question. When you take a step back, it's pretty extraordinary for all of you, maybe even especially you -- you're essentially saying that the speaker is misguided on a major issue.

REP. MURTHA: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. She feels very strongly about this. I mean, this -- she feels morally committed to this issue. It's just that it's impractical at this point to go forward with it.

Thank you very much.

REP. HASTINGS: Thank you all very much.

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