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THE NATION

White House gives in on Armenia nominee

It withdraws its choice for ambassador, whom senators objected to.

August 04, 2007|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday formally withdrew its nominee for ambassadorship to Armenia, yielding to senators who opposed the candidate because he refused to call World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide.

The move came after the nominee, Richard E. Hoagland, a career foreign service officer, asked President Bush in a letter to drop the effort, saying he believed there was no longer any chance the Senate would confirm his selection.

The administration submitted Hoagland's nomination to the Senate in 2006, and again in January. But opposition quickly took shape because in his confirmation hearing Hoagland, following administration policy, deplored the killings but avoided using the word "genocide."

Turkey, an important U.S. ally, views the word as provocative and inaccurate and has insisted that the deaths of 1.2 million Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire were not acts of genocide.

The mass killings are an increasingly contentious issue between Congress and the Bush administration, and between the United States and Turkey.

A majority of members of the House is now on record favoring a pending resolution that would officially recognize the 1915-1923 killings as genocide. But Turkey, whose help the administration needs in the Middle East, has been lobbying against the measure, warning that it would further alienate the Turkish public.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who had used a parliamentary tactic called a "hold" to block the nomination, said, "We're obviously pleased that the administration came to understand that I had no intention of withdrawing my hold."

He said he hoped the new nominee would be "somebody who understands the reality of the Armenian genocide and can express himself or herself when the time comes for a nomination hearing."

Lawmakers and Armenian American activists had been watching the nomination closely after the administration last year removed the previous U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John M. Evans, for calling the killings genocide.

U.S. officials said they expected Hoagland to be nominated for another post soon. Bush believes Hoagland "would have done a wonderful job, and thanks him for his willingness to serve his country," said Emily A. Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.

The administration did not identify its choice for the next nominee. But officials said they had not shifted their position on the genocide issue, raising the possibility that the impasse between the administration and Congress would continue.

Hoagland has been in the foreign service for two decades. He was ambassador to Tajikistan, and he has served in Russia, in several posts in central and South Asia, and in staff posts in Washington. The White House nominated Hoagland in the fall to replace Evans, who left Armenia in September after two years on the job.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) said the administration had erred badly in adopting a view of the Armenian killings "to mollify an ally." He said it was "bad enough" that the administration had evaded the truth on the deaths of 1.2 million Armenians and "even worse when they fired a career diplomat for speaking the truth."

Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, said Hoagland not only avoided the word genocide, but "seems to go out of his way to suggest that genocide never occurred and that we shouldn't speak out against it. Somebody like that can't effectively serve as ambassador to Armenia; this issue is such an important part of your task."

In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 9% of Turks held a favorable view of the U.S., a level considerably lower than in other Muslim areas, including the Palestinian territories.

paul.richter@latimes.com

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