WASHINGTON–A key Senate foreign aid panel yesterday adopted an amendment which would weaken the law restricting US aid to the government of Azerbaijan by allowing US overseas investment agencies to provide loans and credits to US oil firms operating in Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee–without debate–and apparently without even the knowledge of several Subcommittee members–quietly ratified the measure–strongly backed by Senators Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Byrd/Leahy amendment–which was voted on as part of a group of "en bloc" amendmen’s to the fiscal year 1998 foreign aid appropriations bill–would allow the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank to provide loans and credits to companies doing business in Azerbaijan. OPIC is currently prohibited from extending such loans until the President certifies to Congress that Azerbaijan has complied with Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act by taking demonstrable steps toward lifting its blockades and ending its aggression against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Subcommittee adopted a second amendment to weaken Section 907 by allowing US aid to the Azerbaijani government for democracy and government program assistance. The panel also adopted a $95 million hard earmark for Armenia for fiscal year 1998. This maintains the current level of Armenia’s funding–despite increases in overall funding for the New Independent States. The hard earmark for Armenia was strongly supported by Subcommittee chairman Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The funding levels for Georgia and Ukraine were set at $100 million and $225 million–respectively.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the foreign aid bill as early as June 24. The House is scheduled to begin its foreign aid bill deliberations on June 25.