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Hoyer: Dems 'revisiting positions' on 'genocide' resolution

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Majority Leader says a number of Dems are "revisiting their own positions"
  • Turkey is upset about World War I "genocide" resolution in Congress
  • House resolution calls killing of Armenians "genocide"
  • Incirlik Air Base is key point for U.S. military supply of Iraq mission
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some Democrats appear to be wavering on a highly contentious House resolution labeling Turkey's treatment of Armenians in World War I as genocide.

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A KC-135 tanker lands at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey in 2003.

Turkey, a longtime U.S. ally and NATO partner, was incensed by the resolution calling the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks genocide and threatened to block access to Incirlik Air Base after the resolution passed a House committee vote.

The base, in southern Turkey near Syria, is a major resupply center for U.S. operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast and Asia.

The Pentagon is preparing to set up new supply routes for troops in Iraq if Turkey cuts off U.S. access to the strategically important Incirlik, military officials said Tuesday.

Ankara acknowledges the killings of Armenians during World War I but vehemently objects to the "genocide" label.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee last week adopted the nonbinding resolution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would bring the measure to a vote of the full House sometime next month. But the Bush administration urged Congress to drop the issue, and some leading Democrats urged Pelosi not to bring it to the floor.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled Tuesday that the vote might be put off.

"I said I thought we would bring this up prior to us leaving here," said Hoyer of Maryland. "I have not changed on that, although I would be less than candid to say that there are a number of people who are revisiting their own positions. We will have to determine where everybody is."

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced his opposition to the resolution last week.

And Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida and John Tanner of Tennessee, both members of the U.S. House delegation to NATO, urged Pelosi to reconsider in a letter released Tuesday.

"More than half of the cargo flown into Iraq and Afghanistan comes through Incirlik Air Base, and this base would be a key component of any plans for redeployment of our troops in the future," they wrote.

Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pentagon planners are looking at "a broad range of options" to keep food, fuel and ammunition flowing to U.S. troops in Iraq if Turkey blocks Incirlik.

"We're confident that we'll find ways to do that," Ham told reporters at the Pentagon. "There's likely to be some increased cost and some other implications for that, and obviously we'd prefer to maintain the access that we have."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed lawmakers' concerns last week.

"About 70 percent of all air cargo going into Iraq goes through Turkey. ... About a third of the fuel that they consume goes through Turkey or comes from Turkey," Gates said.

He also said that 95 percent of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protective vehicles, or MRAPs, being deployed in Iraq are flown through Turkey. The vehicles are built to withstand roadside bombs. See Incirlik's key location »

The U.S. military issued a "warning order" a few days ago to ensure that alternative air crews, planes, fuel and routes are lined up if Turkey stops or restricts U.S. access to Incirlik, a source said.

Jordan and Kuwait are among the alternatives the United States is considering.

Some fear pursuit of the resolution would also embolden the Turks to attack Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq which could further complicate Iraqi stability, U.S. officials said.

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Incirlik offers 10,000- and 9,000-foot runways and 57 hardened aircraft shelters, according Globalsecurity.org, a source of background information about military issues.

Globalsecurity said Incirlik has become a hub for cargo shipments to Iraq, taking over for Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany because it is closer to Iraq, reducing the strain on troops and aircraft. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Barbara Starr and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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