WASHINGTON–DC–Senate and House Foreign Aid Committee members agreed to appropriate $75 million in assistance to Armenia and $3 million to Mountainous Karabagh–on Tuesday–at a conference to iron out differences between the Senate and House versions of the foreign aid bills–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
"We want to thank Senators McConnell–Leahy–and Mikulski as well as Representatives Kolbe–Knollenberg–Lowey–Rothman and all the other conferees for their leadership in securing a $75 million earmark for Armenia–and to thank all our friends on the Foreign Operations Subcommittees for their work on each of the provisions in this bill that will contribute to the further strengthening of US-Armenia ties," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "We look forward to full Senate and House passage of the measures as early as this week."
The Senate and House conferees also agreed to maintain military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan–approving $5 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and $750,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET) for both countries. The overall foreign aid budget for fiscal year 2006 is $20.9 billion–$2 billion less than the President’s request. In total–$514 million in foreign assistance was allotted to the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union–including $80 million for Russia–$84 million for Ukraine–$67 million for Georgia–and $35 million for Azerbaijan.
Following the foreign aid conference–House Foreign Operations Subcommittee member Steve Rothman (D-NJ) praised the conferees for maintaining high levels of US assistance to Armenia.
"I am very proud that my colleagues and I on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee were able to maintain $75 million in Economic Support Funds for Armenia despite facing such serious budget constraints this year," said Rothman–a member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. "Most Americans believe that America spends 10%-15% of its budget on foreign aid. That simply is not the case–we only spend about 1% of our budget on foreign aid–and that 1% is very well spent. By giving Armenia this aid package–we are providing the financial support that will help this nation establish a more fiscally sound economy–while also ensuring its security."
In the months leading up to the foreign aid conference–Armenian Americans across the country had urged Congress to maintain high levels of assistance to Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh. During its meetings with Senate and House Members and staff–the ANCA stressed the following points:
1) The impact of the dual Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades:
* The World Bank estimates that these blockade are costing Armenia $720 million a year. Despite US pressure–these blockades have remained in place for more than a decade.
* Armenia is making tremendous progress toward a modern–market-based democracy–but needs continued US help to offset the efforts of Turkey and Azerbaijan to strangle its economy by blockading its eastern and western borders.
2) The effectiveness of US foreign aid:
* US Ambassador John Evans–in the fall of 2004–stressed that–"since arriving in Armenia–I have been deeply impressed by not only the breadth and depth of our assistance programs–but by their high quality and the exacting standards of the US Government staff and implementing partners who help design–execute–and evaluate these activities."
3) Armenia’s progress on economic and democratic reforms:
* According to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom–Armenia is the only country in the Caucasus and one of the few former Soviet Republics–which is rated "mostly free." In fact–Armenia is ranked 42nd in the world above even France (44th)–Turkey (112th)–Georgia (100th)–and Azerbaijan (103rd).
* Armenia is one of only 16 countries to have qualified for the Millennium Challenge Account and has already submitted its application.