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U.S. House Panel To Take Up Armenian Genocide Bill

Congressman Howard Berman (right)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A U.S. congressional panel will vote next month on a resolution to label the World War I-era massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces as "genocide," a move that could infuriate Turkey.

Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he intended to call a committee vote on the nonbinding resolution on March 4.

The resolution would call on President Barack Obama to ensure that U.S. policy formally refers to the massacre as "genocide" and to use that term when he delivers his annual message on the issue in April -- something Obama avoided doing last year.

The panel approved a similar bill in 2007, but it was never put to a full House vote amid fears among both Democrats and Republicans that it would alienate Turkey.

The Obama administration sees Turkey as a key ally whose help it needs to solve confrontations from Iran to Afghanistan.

Obama, who as a candidate referred to the killings as genocide, in April used the term "atrocities" in his first presidential address on the issue -- spurring criticism from Armenian-American groups.

Turkey and Armenia last year signed accords to normalize ties after a century of hostility that traces its roots to the 1915 mass killing and deportation of Armenians.

But the deal has wobbled after an Armenian court last month reaffirmed the government's obligation to seek recognition of the killings as genocide, something Turkey strongly opposes.

Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks but denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounts to genocide. Turkish officials have warned that any new attempt in the U.S. Congress to brand the killings a genocide could damage U.S.-Turkish ties.