President Bush and key figures in his administration lobbied hard Wednesday against a House resolution that labels the killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as "genocide."
The president, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said passage of the resolution would hurt relations with an important U.S. ally.
Bush urged lawmakers to oppose the resolution, which he said would cause "great harm" to U.S. relations with Turkey, which he called a key ally in NATO and the "global war on terror."
"We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. This resolution is not the right response to those historic mass killings," Bush said at the White House.
Earlier, Rice and Gates made their comments jointly before reporters at the White House. They said Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, and head of U.S. Central Command Adm. William Fallon raised concerns about the resolution.
"We recognize the feelings of those who want to express their concern and their disdain for what happened many years ago," Rice said. "But the passage of this resolution at this time would, indeed, be very problematic for everything that we're trying to do in the Middle East because we are very dependent on a good Turkish strategic ally to help with our efforts."
The nonbinding proposal, which is to be considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, refers to the "genocide" of Armenians in the early 20th century during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which preceded the creation of modern Turkey in 1923.
"In the case that Armenian allegations are accepted, there will be serious problems in the relations between the two countries," said President Abdullah Gul in a letter to President Bush.
Nabi Sensoy, Turkey's ambassador to the United States, told CNN the resolution's passage would be a "very injurious move to the psyche of the Turkish people."
He predicted a "backlash" in the country, saying there would be setbacks on several fronts: Turkish-American relations, Turkish-Armenian relations and the normalization of relations between the nations of Turkey and Armenia.
Gates said good relations with Turkey are vital because 70 percent of the air cargo intended for and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by the U.S. forces in Iraq flies through Turkey.
U.S. commanders, Gates said, "believe clearly that access to airfields and roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will."
"Our heavy dependence on the Turks for access is really the reason the commanders raised this and why we're so concerned about the resolution," Gates said.
The resolution, which has much support in the full House, calls on the president "to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide, and for other purposes."
A similar resolution passed the committee by a 40-7 vote two years ago, but it never reached the full House floor. House Republican leader John Boehner, noting the critical military and strategic alliance with Turkey, said bringing the resolution to the floor would be "totally irresponsible."
"Let the historians decide what happened 90 years ago," Boehner said in a written statement.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the resolution's author and sponsor, refers to "the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide."
The term genocide is defined in dictionary.com as "the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group."
But the description is hotly disputed in Turkey, the predominantly Muslim, but modern and secular, pro-Western ally of the United States.
Turks argue that all peoples -- Armenians and Turks -- suffered during the warfare. But Armenians maintain there was an organized genocide by the Ottoman Turkish authorities, and have been campaigning across the world for official recognition of the genocide.
The resolution arrives at a particularly sensitive juncture in U.S.-Turkish relations. The United States has urged Turkey not to send its troops over the border into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish separatist rebels, who have launched some cross-border attacks against Turkish targets.
Observers of U.S.-Turkish relations have argued that the House resolution could make Turkey less inclined to use restraint in dealing with its longstanding problems with the Kurdistan Workers Party.
Schiff, who represents a southern California district with many Armenian-Americans, said the "bipartisan measure currently has 226 cosponsors, more than a majority in the House and the most support an Armenian genocide resolution has ever received."
"The United States has a compelling historical and moral reason to recognize the Armenian genocide, which cost a million and a half people their lives," said Schiff. "But we also have a powerful contemporary reason as well. How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?"