WASHINGTON - Phil Gordon, nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Thursday declined to qualify World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as "genocide" during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
During the confirmation hearing at the committee, pro-Armenian Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez complained that Gordon, in his articles as an expert, in recent years had written that congressional recognition of the Armenian killings would not be useful because of the backlash it would cause in Turkey. Menendez then asked Gordon his latest position on the Armenian killings.
Gordon qualified the deaths as a "terrible tragedy" that should be seen as such by everybody, including Turks. But he declined to use the word "genocide."
The term "terrible tragedy" does not satisfy U.S. Armenians, who strongly push for formal U.S. recognition of the killings as genocide.
Turkey warns that any U.S. genocide recognition will damage relations in a major and lasting way.
On Cyprus, Menendez asked Gordon if he qualified Turkey's military presence on the island as an "occupation." Gordon instead used the term "Turkish presence."
Menendez then said Obama had used the term "Turkish occupation" during last year's presidential election campaign.
Greek News, a New York-based U.S. Greek magazine, said in October last year that Obama, in a statement to Greek Americans, had called the Turkish military presence in northern Cyprus "Turkish occupation."
But no such statement was released by Obama's official Web site. Also an Obama position paper on foreign policy matters made no mention of a Turkish occupation. But at the same time the Obama campaign never denied the Greek News story. Gordon said Turkey had a major role to play in its region and that U.S.-Turkish relations should be improved.
If Gordon is approved first by the Foreign Relations Committee and later in a Senate floor vote, he will take over the job from Dan Fried, who has been former President George W. Bush's assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs for the past four years.
During former President Bill Clinton's term, Gordon was European director at the National Security Council at the White House.
Gordon was a senior Europe expert at the Brookings Insti-tution, a major Democratic-leaning think tank here.