Senate Panel Approves $90 Million for Armenia

WASHINGTON–A key Senate committee has approved a $90 million earmark for Armenia and resisted a powerful campaign by the Caspian oil lobby and Administration officials to weaken or repeal the Section 907 restriction on US aid to Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal year 1999 foreign assistance bill–which was adopted Wednesday–would allocate a total of $740 million in assistance to the Newly Independent States. In addition to the $90 million set aside for Armenia–$95 million of the $740 million would be allocated to Georgia.

Despite heavy pressure from the oil industry–the panel maintained Section 907–which mandates that US aid to Azerbaijan move through non-governmental channels until the Azeri government lifts its illegal blockades of Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Committee also approved language–drawn from last year’s foreign aid bill–which creates certain exemptions for US assistance to democracy building and humanitarian programs in Azerbaijan.

The panel–under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)–rejected efforts by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to include his Silk Road legislation in the foreign aid bill. The Silk Road bill–which was recently approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–would repeal Section 907 and open the door to direct US aid to the Azerbaijani government.

"Armenian-Americans appreciate Senator McConnell’s leadership in crafting a bill which increases the level of aid to Armenia and maintains Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

"Any effort–in either the Senate or House–to weaken or repeal the law governing US aid to Azerbaijan will undermine the peace process. The United States should not reward the government of Azerbaijan with US tax dollars for its refusal to lift its blockades and its rejection of direct peace talks with Karabakh. The Senate Appropriations Committee was right to uphold Section 907 and to deny direct subsidies to the corrupt and undemocratic government of former KGB general Haydar Aliyev."

Sen. Robert Byrd–who successfully filibustered former Sen. Robert Dole’s Armenian Genocide Resolution in 1990–won approval for his amendment adding report language in support of an east-west pipeline route through Turkey for Caspian oil.

House Delays Consideration of Bid to Repeal Section 907

In a related matter–the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday delayed its mark-up of the foreign aid bill because of outstanding differences over the International Monetary Fund and growing bipartisan opposition to Committee Chairman Bob Livingston’s efforts to repeal or weaken Section 907.

According to sources inside the Appropriations Committee–the controversy over these two issues has caused the markup–originally scheduled for the morning of July 22nd–to be delayed for an undetermined period.

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s postponement–Livingston faced increased opposition to his efforts to channel US aid directly to the Azerbaijani government. Critics of Livingston’s proposed anti-907 amendment cited Azerbaijan’s continued illegal blockades of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh–as well as the corrupt and undemocratic nature of former KGB general Haydar Aliyev’s government.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated Wednesday to all House Members–California Republican George Radanovich stated–"if section 907 is repealed–the US would be rewarding Azerbaijan with tax dollars–without any change in the repressive policies of the Azerbaijani government or the lifting of the illegal blockades."

The Armenian-American community has played an active role in educating members of Congress about the negative impact that Livingston’s amendment would have on the Karabakh peace talks. Armenian-Americans have voiced their concern that weakening or repealing Section 907 would further harden Azerbaijani intransigence at the negotiating table–and–on the eve of Azeri presidential elections–serve as a tacit US endorsement of Haydar Aliyev’s authoritarian regime.

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