Panel Presses USAID On Karabakh Aid

* Atwood announces USAID-funded children’s immunization program in Nagorno-Karabakh

WASHINGTON–Members of a key House panel pressed US Agency for International Development Administrator Brian Atwood today for answers about the US assistance program to Nagorno-Karabakh–raising specific questions as to why–close to six months into the 1998 fiscal year–none of the $12.5 million allocated by Congress has reached Karabakh.

"We appreciate the leadership of Representatives Pelosi–Knollenberg–Lowey and Foreign Operations Chairman Callahan in ensuring that the Administration adheres to the clear Congressional intent to see the timely and efficient appropriation of at least $12.5 million in aid to Nagorno-Karabakh during fiscal year 1998," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "This assistance represents an important confidence-building measure. Any efforts to divert these funds away from the people of Nagorno-Karabakh–in addition to contravening the will of Congress–will prove to be counter-productive–both in terms of the peace process and US regional interests."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi–Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on foreign aid–led the questioning of Administrator Atwood following his testimony before the Subcommittee. The California legislator asked specifically about the status of US sponsored assistance programs in Nagorno-Karabakh. Atwood responded that a USAID team had recently visited Karabakh and identified several areas in need of assistance–adding that USAID "will sign a contract–next week–for a health program – an immunization program for children. We are also looking at a shelter program." Atwood then went on to tell the Subcommittee:

"I did discuss this with you [Rep. Pelosi] yesterday in private. This all obviously–what we do here– is being watched very carefully by all parties to the Minsk accords. There is hope that our negotiators will work vigorously on this and will try to reach an agreement by the 30th of May. Every one of the parties–whether it is the Government of Azerbaijan or the people in Nagorno-Karabakh–the government in Armenia–where there are now elections and apparently [there is] going to be a run-off–and all are watching carefully to see what the United States does.

I know what your intention was–hoping that generosity would prove to people that it is worth their while to enter into these peace accords. All I can say is that if you feel we are being extra cautious with respect to how we move on this–we are. But we do have some programs in mind and we will begin to sign contracts to get these programs under way – but at the same time watching very carefully to see what the reactions are and how it impacts on the peace process during this very sensitive period.

Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.) went on to state that he remains concerned about the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and praised Subcommittee member Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) for his in depth knowledge of the situation and needs of the region. "Joe Knollenberg has been my House expert on that region and I would invite you–Mr. Administrator–to utilize his knowledge of the problems there–especially with Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia and the division between Armenia and Azerbaijan." Rep. Knollenberg–the architect of the language allocating $12.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh for fiscal year 1998–noted that the first aid program would be reaching Nagorno-Karabakh soon.

New York Democrat Nita Lowey explained that "those of us who have been in that region–Mr. Chairman–are cautiously optimistic and very hopeful that the Minsk group can come up with an agreement to solve the problems in that region. But–I also want to caution that by being overly cautious–I am concerned about the dire needs in Nagorno-Karabakh and would hope that we will respond with assistance now."

Chairman Callahan and Reps. Pelosi and Knollenberg met recently with Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkoumian–during her visit to Washington–to discuss–among other topics–the importance of US humanitarian aid to Karabakh. She had noted that–as of early March of this year–Karabakh–remained the only population in the Caucasus not to receive US humanitarian assistance.

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