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Turkey Envoy Not Back In U.S. Until 'Clear' Armenia Signal

Turkey Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (left) with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in December
ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey has said it will not send its ambassador back to Washington until it gets a "clear sign" on the fate of a U.S. resolution branding the 1915-era killings of Armenians by Turkish forces as "genocide."

NATO member Turkey, a pivotal U.S. ally, was infuriated and recalled its envoy after a U.S. House panel last week approved the nonbinding measure condemning the killings.

"We will not send our ambassador back unless we get a clear sign on the outcome of the situation regarding the Armenian bill," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by state-news agency Anatolian. He did not elaborate.

Erdogan has said the resolution will damage U.S.-Turkish ties, although the Obama administration has vowed to stop it from going further in Congress, fearing damage to ties with Turkey.

Turkey, a secular Muslim democracy that has applied for membership of the European Union, is crucial to U.S. interests in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The issue of the Armenian massacres is deeply sensitive in Turkey. Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks but vehemently denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounted to genocide -- a term employed by many Western historians and some foreign parliaments.

The opposition nationalist MHP Party has called on parliament to take steps against Washington's use of the Incirlik air base on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Incirlik plays a key role in logistical support for U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turkey has also said the resolution could jeopardize a fragile drive by Turkey and Armenia to end a century of hostilities and lead to further instability in the south Caucasus, a region crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines to Europe.