Armenian Caucus Defends Aid Ban to Azerbaijan

* Letter to Foreign Aid Panel chairman advocates $105 Million in aid to Armenia and strict enforcement of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act WASHINGTON–More than 25 members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Armenia Issues joined with Co-chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) in urging the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations to support a series of initiatives of concern to Armenian Americans–including a provision to send direct US aid to Nagorno-Karabakh–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

In their letter to Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.)–Caucus members emphasized the following four initiatives to "benefit the long-suffering Armenian people while at the same time advancing the cause of stability–economic growth–democracy and US interests in the Caucasus region." The appeal comes on the eve of the Subcommittee’s mark-up of the 1998 foreign aid bill. 1. "$105 million hard earmark for Armenia’s economic–humanitarian and democracy needs"

"Because Armenia is largely cut off from the West due to the Turkish and Azeri blockades–US aid has played a pivotal role in helping this small–land-locked nation to survive… This request is certainly not intended to preclude additional sources of bilateral and multilateral aid. But a hard earmark helps to lock in continued strong US support for this vulnerable country surrounded by hostile neighbors and trying to overcome 70 years of Soviet domination." 2. "Humanitarian aid through NGOs and PVOs to all the needy in Azerbaijan and Karabakh"

"The current US policy of prohibiting US humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh–even though the mechanism of NGOs and PVOs–is unfair–and does not advance the cause of a permanent negotiated settlement. . .We are encouraged by suggestions from Ambassador Morningstar that the US should consider decoupling humanitarian assistance from efforts to achieve a political solution the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict. This Subcommittee can help ensure that this decoupling takes place by adopting language that allows US assistance to flow to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh." 3. "Maintain Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act"

"We urge that the Subcommittee not accept any provisions to weaken or otherwise get around the requiremen’s of Section 907–and would further request language in the Foreign Operations bill calling on the Administration to report to Congress on what steps it is taking to ensure Azerbaijan’s compliance with the conditions of Section 907." 4. "Strict enforcement of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act."

"On the House floor last year–an amendment was adopted that would have removed the President’s waiver authority–but that provision was taken out in Conference. Earlier this year–the President exercised this waiver authority. Given Turkey’s failure to abide with the Corridor Act–we urge the Subcommittee consider a provision to tighten the provision by removing or at least strictly limiting the current broad discretion of the Presidential waiver."

Members joining Reps. Pallone and Radanovich in co-signing the letter included Gary Ackerman (D-NY)–Sherrod Brown (D-Ill.)–Bob Filner (D-Calif.)–Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.)–Stephen Horn (R-Calif.)–Sue Kelly (R-NY)–Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.)–Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)–Sander Levin (D-Mich.)–Martin Meehan (D-Mass.)–Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.)–Michael McNulty (D-NY)–Robert Menendez (D-NJ)–John Olver (D-Mass.)–Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.)–Steve Rothman (D-NJ)–Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)–and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

In a statement last Thursday on the House floor–Rep. Pallone provided an in-depth analysis of developmen’s in the Caucasus and outlined his rationale for each of the elemen’s included in the Caucus letter to Chairman Callahan. Selected excerpts of his statement are provided below:

"I have to say–Mr. Speaker–though–that I am concerned by recent reports that . . . suggest that the Minsk group–which the United States co-chairs–may be trying to impose on Nagorno-Karabakh a unacceptable solution. The newspaper reports that the proposed solution would require Nagorno-Karabakh to withdraw its forces from the Azeri firing posts. These were places where the Azerbaijani forces fired on the people of Nagorno-Karabakh–and basically what these newspaper reports say is that this proposed solution by the United States and others would force Karabakh to withdraw its forces from these firing posts."

"And ultimately to dissolve the army–this is another one of the conditions–to ultimately dissolve the army–which is the only guarantee of security for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh–and also to require that Karabakh remain an enclave within Azerbaijan with the danger of the deportation of the native Armenian population–that danger will always exist as long as Karabakh is considered part of Azerbaijan."

"The newspaper reports that Karabakh would be granted the right to have its own Constitution–symbol–national anthem–flag–and national guard. This all sounds very nice–but–these trappings–and that is what they are–trappings of nationhood–would obviously be hollow symbols if the people of Karabakh had no way of protecting and maintaining their hard-won freedom and independence… There was [also] a news report last month on CNN that President Aliyev of Azerbaijan was vowing to take control over Karabakh by force if necessary. The US–and I believe very strongly–the US must not be in the position of tacitly supporting–much less openly supporting–any government that still advocates the use of force to settle this controversy."

"As I indicated–Mr. Speaker–I hope that the State Department will clarify its position and respond to these recent media reports. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot and our new special negotiator for Nagorno–Ambassador Lynn Pascoe were recently in the region. As the co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenia Issues–I am working to get the State Department to make clear where they stand on these negotiations–particularly in light of the fact that this House has gone on record in support of continued US neutrality."

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