WASHINGTON–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday on the Administration’s proposal to break an agreement to maintain military aid parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, citing Baku’s threats of renewed aggression and its recent cross-border attacks against Nagorno-Karabakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
Calling the recent Azerbaijani attacks against Nagorno-Karabakh’s Mardakert region as the "the worst breach [of the cease fire] in over 10 years," Rep. Knollenberg asked Secretary Rice how the Administration intends to respond to Azerbaijan’s aggression and war rhetoric.
"We are very concerned about the heating up rhetoric but I think the way to deal with this is to open channels to both sides and to try to bring them to a solution," she replied.
"I wasn’t the least bit kidding about removing their military funding because if Azerbaijan is building up to a point, that they have also said that they would move into Armenia and challenge them whenever they want to because they have an economic situation that is far stronger than Armenia," Knollenberg responded. "In time they probably could put together a military organization that would march in and take over. Now that’s not the outcome any of us want, but I am really concerned about that. That is why I am suggesting that we take away their military funding or at least threaten it-because they are threatening Armenia," he added.
In response to Rep. Schiff’s concerns that the President’s budget called for a break in military aid parity to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Secretary Rice cited concerns about the current state of emergency in Armenia. Rep. Schiff interjected that no state of emergency existed when the President’s budget was announced in early February, prompting Secretary Rice to state that Armenia received Millennium Challenge Account funding and is the highest recipient of per capita aid in the Caucasus.
Noting Armenia’s recent domestic turmoil surrounding the Armenian elections, and specifically the state of emergency declared by the government, Rice twice referenced the suspension of implementation of some US assistance programs to Armenia and stated that they continue to work with the authorities to bring stability to the region.
The budget proposed by the White House last month sought to dramatically slash aid to Armenia by 59%, and, once again, proposed tipping the military aid balance in favor of Azerbaijan, despite Baku’s threats to use its growing military arsenal to restart its war against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Congressman Knollenberg and his Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) are currently collecting signatures from their House colleagues on a letter urging the leaders of the US State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee to support provisions in the FY09 foreign aid bill that advance US interests and American values in Armenia and the surrounding region.