EXCLUSIVE: Biden administration to officially acknowledge Armenian genocide

EXCLUSIVE: White House sources tell Ian Bremmer the Biden administration will recognize Armenian genocide - the first US president to recognize genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War 1. Ian explains in this Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here, kicking off the week. Gorgeous outside, it is spring, and I thought we'd focus today on some breaking news out of the United States on Turkey. Those of you following Turkey, know it's been a tough couple of weeks, couple of months, year for President Erdogan. A lot of things going wrong for Turkey right now. They just pulled their country out of the Istanbul Conventions, European agreement that meant to protect women. And he also just sacked his new central bank governor. That's four central bank governors in two years. The economy is not doing well. The Turkish lira is getting crushed, his domestic popularity not going well. And as a consequence, he's cracking down on the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, the HDP. In fact, they're making a legal effort to just close it down right now, the second biggest opposition party in the country and a bunch of other stuff.

But the big news, is that Erdogan is about to face another diplomatic challenge, which is from the United States. As I've heard from the White House, that President Biden is going to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenians under the Ottomans' rule as a genocide.


Now, this perhaps shouldn't come as a huge surprise. First of all, it happened a long time ago and the French already did some 20 years ago, the Canadians recognized it too, and Biden promised during his campaign that he would make the move if elected. Vice President Kamala Harris, by the way, from California, where there's a large constituency in favor of that, she was actually co-sponsor of the Senate resolution for recognition back in 2019. And with Tony Blinken now as secretary of state, human rights is clearly much higher on Biden's foreign policy agenda than it was under Obama, or obviously than it was under Trump.

To be fair, all of this comes on the back of President Obama, who also said when he was running for office, that he would pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide and then he didn't do it. And indeed, the former advisors to Obama, like the old UN ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, the former deputy of national security advisor, who is Ben Rhodes, had both publicly said, they apologized for it, they said it was a mistake, that they were offering too much to Erdogan, they didn't want to offend or upset him. First of all, Biden aware of all of this when he makes his own pledge, and Samantha Powers, going to be working in the Biden administration, she's already been nominated to run USAID, but Biden clearly does not care as much about alienating the Turkish government. In fact, he hasn't even scheduled a call yet with Erdogan. We're a couple months in right now, despite repeated requests.

And the mood is getting worse. I've actually heard in the last couple of days from both White House and State Department officials, that Biden was incensed when the Turkish president publicly called Biden's comments about Putin, responding to George Stephanopoulos last week about whether he was a killer or not, Erdogan, NATO ally of the United States, said that it was unacceptable for Biden to say that about Erdogan's friend, Vladimir Putin. Then last week, in response to a bipartisan letter from some 38 senators, and it's hard to get bipartisan groups of senators to do anything these days, calling on Biden to recognize the genocide, the White House moved further. They said, "The administration is committed to promoting respect for human rights and ensuring such atrocities are not repeated." And critically, concluding with, "A critical part of that is acknowledging history." And that is code in Biden-land for recognition of the genocide.

Voided front running an announcement because this week Secretary Blinken is going to a NATO ministerial in Europe, it's face-to-face that will include his Turkish counterpart and clearly, they don't want to blow it up right before then. But it's obviously signaling the intention and when asked whether the statement confirmed the genocide recognition would indeed go ahead, a White House advisor told me, "That's what he pledged as a candidate, and that's the policy going forward." I've also heard from a second White House official ask specifically about an impending announcement on April 24th, which is coming up soon, and is the genocide remembrance day, said that, "Biden is a man of his word." So, it's seeming pretty clear at this point. He would be the first American president to do so, that's a big deal. Erdogan will clearly be incensed in response to that. But at this point, he's got a pretty limited domestic constituency in the United States.

The defense companies are probably the strongest, but much less so after Turkey decided to go ahead and buy this S-400 missile defense system from the Russians, even as an American ally. In any case, Biden has shown much less concern about that kind of backlash, given his willingness to put human rights first and foremost, in the relationship with Saudi Arabia, for example, which is by far the most important arms purchaser from the United States in the world. There's no question that a genocide recognition will make it much harder for a reset of US/Turkey relations, but I don't really expect it. And Ankara is going to feel a lot more isolated, but they're under massive economic pressure right now, too.

I would say really what this is all about is a broader pivot of the United States from the Middle East, wanting to end the forever wars, not consider the broader Middle East as important to US national security. Clearly focusing a lot more in Asia, on the quad, on challenging relations with China. And all of that makes Biden's own regional decision-making a lot less constrained than historical presidents have been.

So pretty big news, quite something, I'm looking forward to what the Biden administration is going to be saying on the record on all of this but delighted to bring it to you. Anyway, that's it for me, I hope you're all safe and avoiding fewer people. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, be good.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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