Reps. Morella–Pallone–Schiff–Visclosky and Kirk speak out on US aid to Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh
WASHINGTON–ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations this week–outlining the key foreign aid concerns of the Armenian American community–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
In his testimony–Hachikian outlined a number of issues for consideration by the foreign aid panelists including the importance of maintaining US assistance levels to Armenia–securing an additional $10 million a year in US aid to Nagorno Karabakh–and ensuring close scrutiny of President Bush’s waiver of the ban on US assistance to Azerbaijan.
Hachikian began his testimony by highlighting the strength of the US-Armenia relationship. "In the decade since 1991–the US and the Armenian governmen’s have steadily expanded relations based on a history of shared values and common interests in a secure stable Caucasus and Caspian region," explained the ANCA chairman–noting the January 2000 launch of the US-Armenia Economic Task Force which brings together officials from the Departmen’s of State–Commerce and Treasury–the Trade Development Agency–the US Agency for International Development–and the National Security Council–to promote economic cooperation between the United States and Armenia.
The ANCA testimony also addressed the need to maintain the current level of at least $90 million in US assistance to Armenia–explaining that it will "help offset the devastating effects of the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and help to continue Armenia’s political and economic transition. Specifically–these funds will be used to develop the economy and infrastructure–further strengthen democratic institutions–and meet the country’s current development and humanitarian needs."
Hachikian expressed concern about the slow pace of implementation of the $20 million aid package for Nagorno Karabakh appropriated by Congress in 1998. "Great humanitarian and developmental needs remain in Nagorno Karabakh," he noted–and went on to "request the inclusion of language in this year’s legislation ensuring that assistance to Nagorno Karabakh continues at an annual level of at least at $10 million."
The testimony also raised issues with the Congressional decision last year to grant the President waiver authority on Section 907–which sets restrictions on US assistance to Azerbaijan. "The waiver authority granted to the President undermines our interests in the region by encouraging Azerbaijan to maintain its blockades and remain intransigent in the peace talks on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The exercise of this waiver authority–in addition to representing a retreat from a principled standagainst aggression and blockades–sends the dangerous signal to Azerbaijan that the US will not respond decisively to renewed aggression against Karabakh or Armenia." The testimony urged the Foreign Operations Subcommittee to "reassert Congressional authority to legislate guidelines governing our foreign aid policy by including a provision in the fiscal year 2003 foreign aid bill that allows the President to extend the authority to waive Section 907–on a year-to-year basis–only with explicit Congressional approval." Hachikian also urged Congress to "carefully monitor the terms of the Presidential waiver of Section 907 and to exercise strict Congressional scrutiny of the use of any of these funds–including arms sales or transfers to Azerbaijan that will increase Azerbaijan’s offensive military capability or that could potentially be used by the Azerbaijani government against Karabakh or Armenia."
Hachikian touched upon a number of additional topics including imposing common sense restrictions on US military assistance to Turkey and the need to adopt legislation to withhold US taxpayer support for the planning or construction of a Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that bypasses Armenia.
Reps. Morella–Pallone–Schiff and Visclosky Speak Out on Foreign Aid Issues
As in past years–several Representatives submitted testimony to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee addressing the importance of continued US aid in ensuring Armenia’s economic viability.
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stressed that "Armenia’should be recognized for its willingness to negotiate with its neighbors without preconditions–while moving forward on domestic political and economic reforms. For example–despite continued illegal economic isolation–the GDP has grown at a rate of 7.4 percent of the last first quarter of this year. A recently conducted study by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation listed Armenia as 45 out of 155 countries–garnering "mostly free" status. Armenian was tied in this study with France–and is rated highest among the countries of the Former Soviet Union."
California Democrat Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)–referring to the Section 907 waiver that would allow US assistance Azerbaijan cautioned the Subcommittee to "remain vigilant to ensure that any funds allocated under this waiver are not misused. The bill you are about to draft is an excellent vehicle by which to send a strong message to the Administration to call on the Government of Azerbaijan to lift its blockade of Armenia as a gesture of goodwill."
In an April 24th letter to Subcommittee Chairman Kolbe and Ranking Member Nita Lowey–Indiana Democrat Peter Visclosky urged the panel to appropriate at least $90 million in US aid to Armenia. Expressing caution about the consequences of the waiver of Section 907–Visclosky noted that "Section 907 should be revisited annually until Azerbaijan takes serious–demonstrable steps towards ending the conflict with Armenia–starting with an end to the blockade."
Reps. Connie Morella–Mark Kirk and the Armenian Assembly have also submitted testimony to the Foreign Operations Committee.