Obama Declines to Call Armenian Deaths in World War I a 'Genocide'

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By sidestepping the genocide issue -- a key tension point between Turks and Armenians and a rallying cry among Armenian-Americans -- President Obama says he is trying to be as "encouraging as possible."

President Obama on Monday declined to repeat his claim that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I was a "genocide," stepping back from his campaign pledge to Armenian Americans that the "widely documented fact" would be fully commemorated during his presidency.

During a joint news conference alongside Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Obama said he did not want to "focus on my views" or in any way interfere with delicate negotiations between Turks and Armenians on what the president called "a whole host of issues."

When asked if his views had changed or he was tempering them in light of the fragile Turkish-Armenian talks, Obama said he is not interested in "tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions."

Later during a speech to the Turkish parliament, Obama said he supports a full "normalization" of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

During the campaign, Obama was emphatic about the history of Turkish aggression against Armenians from 1915-1923 as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing and the bloodshed from World War I -- in which the Ottomans allied with the Germans -- spread across the continent.

The Armenian Assembly of America said Obama did nothing to reverse his position, quoting the president saying that "my views are on the record and I have not changed views." It added that the assembly expects a solid statement of support from Obama on April 24, the day Armenians commemorate the "genocide."

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