President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to use the politically fraught term.
Top administration officials discussed the decision with Armenian-American leaders Tuesday. The White House said the officials pledged that the U.S. would use this week's 100th anniversary of the killings "to urge a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts," but a statement about the meeting did not include the word 'genocide."
As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama did describe the killings of Armenians as genocide. But he has never used that description since taking office, mainly out of deference to Turkey, a key U.S. partner.
Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, an event widely viewed by scholars as a genocide. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide and say the death toll has been inflated.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he was "deeply disappointed" by the president's decision.
"The United States has long prided itself for being a beacon of human rights, for speaking out against atrocity, for confronting painful chapters of its own past and that of others," said Schiff. "This cannot be squared with a policy of complicity in genocide denial by the president or Congress."
The White House said that while it understands the perspective of those hoping to hear different language from Obama this year, the administration believes its approach is right, "both for acknowledging the past, and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present."
The White House also announced that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will attend a ceremony in Armenia Friday making the anniversary.