WASHINGTON — A House panel defied President Bush on Wednesday and approved a measure that he said would damage U.S. goals in the Middle East.

The measure that would recognize the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide had been strongly opposed by Turkey, a key NATO ally that has supported U.S. efforts in Iraq.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee's 27-21 vote now sends the measure to the House floor — unless the Democratic leadership reverses course and heeds Bush's warnings.

At issue is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, says the toll has been inflated and insists that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Bush and other senior officials made a last-minute push to persuade lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs Committee to reject the measure.

"Its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror," Bush said hours before the vote.

The committee's chairman, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, expressed concerns about security implications of the resolution but ultimately voted in favor.

Turkey raised the possibility of impeding logistical and other U.S. military traffic now using Turkish airspace.

"Some politicians in the United States have once again sacrificed important matters to petty domestic politics despite all calls to commonsense," President Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Anatolia.

"Naturally, this is a sad decision," said Nabi Sensoy, Turkey's ambassador to the U.S., minutes after the vote. "No one can allow others to put an undeserved stain on them."

On Wednesday, hundreds of Turks marched to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul to protest the bill.

Armenian-American groups, who have worked for decades to pass a resolution, rejoiced at the committee's approval of the message.

"The Foreign Affairs Committee's adoption today of the Armenian Genocide Resolution represents a meaningful step toward reclaiming our right— as Americans — to speak openly and honestly about the first genocide of the 20th Century," said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates conveyed their concerns.

Passing the measure "at this time would be very problematic for everything we are trying to do in the Middle East," Rice told reporters at the White House.

The vote comes at a tense time in the region. Turkey's government is seeking parliamentary approval for a military operation to chase separatist Kurdish rebels who operate from bases in northern Iraq. The move, opposed by the U.S., could open a new front in the most stable part of Iraq.

The White House and Turkey are now expected to pressure Democratic leaders to keep the measure from going to a vote. But Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has signaled that they will have a hard sell.

The administration made clear the stakes are high.

Gates said 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 in Iraq.

"Access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will," Gates said. He also said that 95 percent of new vehicles designed to better protect against mine attacks are being flown through Turkey to get to Iraq.

Lawmakers from both parties who supported the proposal said the moral implications outweighed security concerns and friendship with Turkey.

"The sad truth is that the modern government of Turkey refuses to come to terms with this genocide," said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J. "For Armenians everywhere, the Turkish government's denial is a slap in the face."

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the resolution's sponsor, who is not on the committee, said that he hoped that it would now move quickly to a vote on the House floor.

"America must speak candidly about the past not only to help heal the wounds of the survivors and the families of the victims, but to give the United States the moral authority it needs to take action against other genocides like that taking place today in Darfur," he said following the vote.

Pelosi and the second-ranking Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, met Wednesday with Turkish Ambassador Sensoy but emerged from the meeting unswayed. Hoyer told reporters he expects a floor vote on the measure before the House adjourns for the year.

Hoyer said he hoped that Turkey would realize it is not a condemnation of its current government but rather of "another government, at another time.


Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

On the Net: House Foreign Affairs Committee: foreignaffairs.house.gov