Ankara, Turkey — Turkey, which is a key supply route to U.S. troops in Iraq, recalled its ambassador to Washington on Thursday and warned of serious repercussions if Congress labels the killing of Armenians by Turks a century ago as genocide.
Ordered after a House committee endorsed the genocide measure, the summons of the ambassador for consultations was a further sign of the deteriorating relations between two longtime allies and the potential for new turmoil in an already troubled region.
Egeman Bagis, an aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Turkish media that Turkey - a conduit for many of the supplies shipped to American bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan - might have to "cut logistical support to the U.S."
Analysts also have speculated the resolution could make Turkey more inclined to send troops into northern Iraq to hunt Turkish Kurd rebels, a move opposed by the U.S. because it would disrupt one of the few relatively stable and peaceful Iraqi areas.
"There are steps that we will take," Turkey's prime minister told reporters, but without elaboration. It also wasn't clear if he meant his government would act immediately or wait to see what happens to the resolution in Congress.
He declined to answer questions about whether Turkey might shut down Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, a major cargo hub for U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkey's Mediterranean port of Iskenderun is also used to ferry goods to American troops.
"You don't talk about such things, you just do them," Erdogan said.
The measure before Congress is just a nonbinding resolution without the force of law, but the debate has incensed Turkey's government.
The relationship between the two NATO allies, whose troops fought together in the Korean War in 1950-53, have stumbled in the past. They hit a low in 2003, when Turkey's parliament refused to allow U.S. forces use their country as a staging ground for the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
But while the threat of repercussions against the U.S. is appealing for many Turks, the country's leaders know such a move could hurt Turkey's standing as a reliable ally of the West and its ambitions to be a mediator on the international stage.
The Turks did suspend military ties with France last year after parliament's lower house approved a bill that would have made it a crime to deny the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey amounted to genocide. But Turkey has much more to lose from cutting ties to the U.S.
The United States is one of its major business partners, with $11 billion in trade last year, and the U.S. defense industry provides much of the Turkish military's equipment.
Turkey's ambassador in Washington, Nabi Sensoy, was ordered home for discussions with the Turkish leadership about what is happening in Congress, Foreign Minister spokesman Levent Bilman said. He said Sensoy would go back after seven to 10 days.
"We are not withdrawing our ambassador. We have asked him to come to Turkey for some consultations," Bilman said.
The Bush administration, which is lobbying strongly in hopes of persuading Congress to reject the resolution, stressed the need for good relations with Turkey.
About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military there. U.S. bases also get water and other supplies carried in overland by Turkish truckers who cross into Iraq's northern Kurdish region.