Administration officials stress commitment to Karabakh peace talks in second day of testimony before the House International Relations Committee.
WASHINGTON–A broad range of issues of concern to Armenian Americans–including increased US aid to Armenia–direct aid to Nagorn- Karabakh–the ban on US assistance to Azerbaijan–and US participation in talks to resolve the Karabakh conflict–were among the topics raised this week during two days of hearings on the Newly Independent States held by the House International Relations Committee–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Committee heard testimony Tuesday from Amb. Richard Morningstar–Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on Assistance to the Newly Independent States and Thomas Dine–United States Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator for Europe and the NIS. Both officials offered explanations and answered questions regarding the Administration’s proposal for the fiscal year 1998 foreign aid package for the NIS. Earlier–the Committee heard testimony from James Collins–Ambassador at Large for the NIS–regarding US-Russian relations.
During his remarks–Amb. Morningstar said that "aid to the fledgling market democracies of Central Asia and the Caucasus are strongly in our national interest. Their strategic location between Russia–the Middle East–and China–coupled with vast energy resources–make their stability vital to US interests."
Dine noted that the US has been instrumental in Armenia’s progress toward developing a market economy. He also credited US aid programs with strengthening the Central Bank and helping to de-monopolize the energy sector. He pointed out that "Armenia has made strides and had setbacks in its democratic transition in the past year," adding that–"In late 1996–presidential and local elections were held but international observers described them as flawed."
Aid to Armenia and Karabakh a Top Priority
During a question and answer session following Tuesday’s testimony–Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) addressed the Committee concerning his disappointment at the Administration’s proposal to decrease US aid to Armenia.
"Many of my Congressional friends of Armenia really think that the earmark should be at least what it was last year–not the $80 million that was proposed but the $95 million that we got last year and we are going to continue to work for that within the appropriations committee," explained Congressman Pallone.
Noting his recent trip to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–Rep. Pallone asked the panel to comment about the benefits of sending direct aid to Karabakh. In response–Amb. Morningstar stated: "In part as a result of your trip and a request from the government of Armenia we are looking at the needs requiremen’s of Nagorno-Karabakh and your view that those needs are not being addressed. The real issue–I take it–is medical assistance not so much food and fuel. Having done that–I think we have to at least look at the issue as to what we can do. We are presently working through the International American Red Cross and we have to determine whether that is sufficient enough and if it is not sufficient–is there a way to de-link humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh from political considerations. . ."
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) expressed concern that the Administration is proposing to cut $15 million in aid to Armenia at the same time that it is calling for a $15 million increase in aid to Azerbaijan. He argued that the idea of "taking money away from a country that is under blockade and giving to a country that is doing the blockading strikes me as an odd notion of fairness." Sherman also pointed out that aid to Azerbaijan–which is channeled through non-governmental organizations–"relieves the government of its own social welfare responsibilities and provides them with the resources that unfortunately seem dedicated to blockading Armenia."
Rep. Campbell Questions Armenia and Ukraine Earmarks
In a departure from his traditional support for Armenian American concerns–Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) raised questions about earmarking aid to Armenia and Ukraine. He specifically noted that "if you took the increase for Armenia and the Ukraine from 1995 to 1997 and spent it in Russia instead you would have two thirds of what you want as an increase for Russia." Campbell then asked the panelists to comment on whether this year’s proposed "numbers for Armenia and the Ukraine in response to the earmark and political reality?"
Rep. Gilman Asks About the Impact of Section 907 On US-Azeri Cooperation
Committee Chairman Rep. Ben. Gilman asked the panelists to comment on the impact Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–which restricts US aid to the Azeri government–has had on US cooperation "with Azerbaijan on narcotics–international crime issues and . . . democratization programs." Although he ruled out repealing the measure–Rep. Gilman asked the Dine and Morningstar to comment about how this cooperation could be facilitated within the confines of the law. Amb. Morningstar explained that a modification of Section 907 may be possible by inserting language reflecting these concerns in the conference report on the foreign aid bill.
Amb. Collins Updates Committee on US Efforts to Help Resolve Karabakh Conflict
In response to an inquiry by Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) regarding US involvement in the Karabakh peace process–Amb. Collins stated his hope that the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group–the US–Russia–and France–would be "able to come to agreement on essentially two approaches. One is to impress upon the parties in this conflict that we are united as three and we are intent on trying to help them get negotiated the problems that remain. Second–is that I hope we will be able to suggest from our collective work options for resolving the issues that remain stuck."
The Ambassador went on to stress that "in the end–the success or failure of this is not going to depend on the three. It is going to depend on the parties to the conflict and there I have to express grave caution about whether or not we will be successful. But it is an important thing to get resolved and it affects our major interests in the Caucasus."