WASHINGTON–DC–Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) today asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice–during her testimony before the House International Relations Committee–to explain why the Bush Administration has proposed breaking the agreement struck between the White House and Congress in 2001 to maintain parity in US military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The California Democrat noted that–"the Administration has requested nearly forty percent more in military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia–despite an informal agreement between the Administration and Congress to maintain military aid parity between the two countries. This informal agreement was reached when we allowed the President to waive section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–which had previously prevented any military aid to Azerbaijan." He then said that–"in light of Azerbaijan’s President’s recent threats to resume war and in light of this informal agreement with Congress–I would hope you would provide for military parity between the two countries." He concluded his remarks by noting that the Administration’s "request for economic aid to Armenia represents a one third cut from what Congress provided in Fiscal Year 2006. I am confident Congress will provide as much in Fiscal Year 2007 as it did in Fiscal Year 2006 and I hope you will be supporting that effort."
Because of the short time allotted for each of the 50 members of the panel to offers questions–Congressman Sherman’suggested to the Secretary that she submit her answers in writing following the hearing. She agreed to follow up with the Congressman in writing.
Additional Members of Congress who submitted written questions on Armenian American issues to Secretary Rice during her week-long series of hearings on Capitol Hill included Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA)–Grace Napolitano (D-CA)–and Diane Watson (D-CA). "We want to thank representatives Sherman–Schiff–Napolitano–and Watson–and–of course–Senator Allen for ensuring that Congress’ vital oversight of our nation’s foreign policy includes careful attention to issues of special concern to our nation’s one and a half million citizens of Armenian heritage," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA.
"In the interest of transparent government and an informed electorate–we look forward–in the coming weeks–to sharing with the Armenian American community the Secretary’s written responses to the questions addressed to her at this week’s hearings."
Senator Allen expressed serious concerns about the Administration’s request for more military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia–in addition to the ability of the President to continue to certify that military assistance to Azerbaijan would not undermine a peaceful settlement of the Karabagh conflict as Azerbaijan continues to threaten to restart the war.
Congressman Schiff offered detailed written questions concerning US Ambassador to Armenia–John Evans–who during public remarks last year–spoke openly about the need to properly recognize the Armenian genocide as a clear instance of genocide. Congressman Schiff specifically asked the Secretary to explain any role the State Department played in the American Foreign Service Association’s reversal of its decision to grant Ambassador Evans the "Christian A. Herter Award" for constructive dissent just before Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited President Bush in Washington–DC.
The California Congressman also called on the Secretary to assure the Committee that the Department of State has not taken–and will not take–any punitive actions against Ambassador Evans for speaking out about the Armenian genocide. Congressman Schiff also submitted a written question on the military aid parity issue.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano offered a written question regarding the State Department’s response to the December 2005 demolition by Azeri forces of the medieval Armenian cemetery in the southern Nakhichevan region of Julfa. She noted that the desecration was caught on videotape and asked what steps the State Department has taken to condemn the destruction of the cemetery or to send US officials to investigate the site.
Representative Diane Watson registered her concerns about the military parity issue–asking the Secretary to justify proposing increased aid for Azerbaijan in light of the fragile cease-fire and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s repeated threats to renew his country’s aggression against Karabagh. She also submitted a question about the State Department’s response to the more than sixty pending criminal prosecutions in Turkey against journalists–writers and other intellectuals solely for freedom of expression.
Several Members of Congress brought up the importance of multilateral action to stop genocide in Darfur–among them Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ)–Edward Royce (R-CA)–Barbara Lee (D-CA)–and Diane Watson.
Secretary Rice responded to these questions by stressing that she hopes the US can secure a UN Security Council resolution to deploy a UN mission before the month-long US presidency of the Security Council finishes at the end of this month.