WASHINGTON, DC – A key U.S. House panel responsible for foreign aid voted today to approve $44 million in economic aid to Armenia – a figure $4 million less than the $48 million the same body adopted last year, but $4 million more than the amount proposed earlier this year in President Obama’s budget request to Congress, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Reports from sources close to this process report that the panel, which is led by longtime Armenian American issues supporter Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), voted, once again, to increase the ceiling on direct U.S. assistance to Nagorno Karabagh, approving language calling on the Administration to spend up to $10 million for programs in Artsakh.
The panel did not include language calling for Nagorno Karabagh’s return to direct participation in the peace process, or seeking to break down barriers to U.S.-Nagorno Karabagh contacts and communications. Nor did it act favorably upon requests made by Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and the ANCA to suspend all military assistance to Azerbaijan in response to its escalating war rhetoric and, most notably, Baku’s June 18th attack on Nagorno Karabagh, which led to the death of 5 soldiers.
Significantly, the measure adopted today by the Subcommittee rejects attempts by President Obama to tilt the balance in U.S. military aid in favor of Azerbaijan. The panel chose, instead, to maintain parity in Foreign Military Financing at $3.5 million and International Military Education and Training allocations, at $450,000, to Yerevan and Baku.
“We appreciate the role that Chairwoman Lowey and Adam Schiff, Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Kirk, Steve Rothman, and our other friends on the Subcommittee played in seeking to constructively address our community’s foreign aid priorities,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “While we remain troubled by the downward trend in overall aid appropriated by Congress to Armenia over the past decade, we are gratified that the panel rejected President Obama’s attempt to break military aid parity, and for setting a target of $10 million in aid to Nagorno Karabagh. We will, in the coming days, work with our friends on the Senate side to seek to zero-out aid to Azerbaijan, support Nagorno Karabagh’s return to direct participation in the peace process, break down barriers to U.S.-Nagorno Karabagh dialogue, and increase the level of aid to Armenia.”
Following the vote, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), a vocal advocate on the panel for Armenian American priorities, noted that: “I am pleased that economic assistance for Armenia has been increased by 10 percent, assistance for Nagorno Karabagh has again been included and that parity with Azerbaijan has been maintained in security assistance. The bill once again includes language directing the State Department to consult with the Appropriations Committee before any waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bars assistance to Azerbaijan. We must exercise a greater degree of oversight and I hope this provision will raise the bar considerably for any waiver in the future. In addition, in the wake of the recent violence that claimed the lives of four Karabakh soldiers, I am pleased that the report includes language calling for a lessening of threats and provocations. Azerbaijan’s rhetoric and actions are a major cause of regional instability and episodic violence.”
The resolution included report language, first adopted last year by the Subcommittee, regarding the President’s authority to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, a provision of law that restricts aid to Azerbaijan due to its blockades and other offensive actions against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. The text calls on the State Department to consult with the Appropriations Committee before exercising the waiver in order to ensure that all its conditions are being met. Similarly, the resolution, once again, expressed support for the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations and included a blanket call on all parties to refrain from threats, incitement to the use of force, or other inflammatory rhetoric, though it stopped short of specfically condemning the growing tide of Azerbaijani war rhetoric and its acts of aggression against Nagorno Karabagh.
In recent months, the ANCA has worked with friends in the House and Senate in support of the foreign aid priorities of the Armenian American community:
1) $70 million in economic aid to Armenia
2) $10 million in development aid to Nagorno Karabagh
3) Strengthening the enforcement of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act and maintaining military aid parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan
4) Removing barriers to U.S.-Nagorno Karabagh dialogue
5) Supporting the reinstatement of Nagorno Karabagh in the OSCE Minsk Group peace process
6) $5 million in military aid to Armenia
The ANCA’s foreign aid priorities are consistent with the requests put forward by the Congressional Armenian Caucus. Earlier this year, the Caucus brought together over two dozen legislators in sending a letter to State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Nita Lowey and Ranking Republican Kay Granger (R-TX) in support of these provisions. Click here to read the full text of the March 22, 2010, Armenian Caucus letter.
Parallel to these efforts, Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus Co-Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), in an April 27, 2010 letter that he co-signed with three of his House colleagues, called for the total repeal of the Section 907 restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan.
The House Foreign Aid Bill will next be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee, before consideration by the full House. The Senate’s version of the foreign aid bill has yet to be presented for consideration.