House Panel Promotes Direct Karabakh Azerbaijan Peace Talks

WASHINGTON–A key House panel Thursday approved a fiscal year 1999 foreign aid bill designed to help promote a lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through direct negotiations–without preconditions–between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The measure adopted earlier Thursday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations proposes an overall reduction in aid to the New Independent States of $180 million–down to $590 million. The panel’s version of the bill would reduce aid to the Caucasus from last year’s level of $250 million to $194.7 million–with 25 percent of this amount going to Armenia–25 percent to Georgia–40 percent to a Caucasus Contingency Fund–and the remaining 10 percent to Nagorno-Karabakh–Abkhazia–and humanitarian projects in Azerbaijan. Sources in the Subcommittee have indicated that report language will set aside a minimum of $7.5 million of this 10 percent for Karabakh.

The panel did not consider any measures to repeal Section 907–which restricts aid to Azerbaijan until it lifts it blockades of Armenia and Karabakh. The Chairman of the full Appropriations Committee–Robert Livingston (R-La.)–however–reserved for himself the right to offer an amendment repealing Section 907 when the bill is brought before the full Committee next week. The panel’s version of the bill realizes a long held ANCA goal of zero-funding both military and economic aid to Turkey.

The panel also approved report language–proposed by Reps. John Porter (R-Ill.) and Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.)–which would restrict access to the $77.9 million Caucasus Contingency Fund to any party to the Minsk Group process that does not agree to direct or proximity negotiations–without preconditions. The Fund is open to all parties in the Caucasus–although this provision would impact Azerbaijan–which has refused to negotiate directly with Karabakh without preconditions.

"We are gratified by the adoption of the measure authored by Representatives Porter and Knollenberg–which represents a constructive step toward the lasting resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through direct negotiations," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "At the same time–we are deeply troubled by the Subcommittee’s reductions in aid to Armenia and will seek to restore these figures during Senate debate on this bill."

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