Sherman Questions USAID Chief on Karabakh

*Rep. Bereuter responds with attack on the Armenian-American community.

WASHINGTON–Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) pressed US Agency for International Development Director Brian Atwood to explain the Administration’s proposed decrease in US aid to Armenia and increase in assistance to Azerbaijan–during a March 3 hearing of the House International Relations Committee–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

"Armenia is taking forward steps on democracy. It has agreed to the OSCE peace plan for Nagorno Karabakh. Yet its aid is being cut by 11 percent. Azerbaijan–in contrast–had very poor elections–continues to blockade its neighbors and yet its aid is being increased by 40 percent. I would think that maybe this was some typographical error–that in fact the intention would have been just the opposite–to increase Armenia by 40 percent and decrease Azerbaijan by 11 percent," stated Rep. Sherman.

Speaking about the US aid program for Nagorno Karabakh–first enacted in 1997–Rep. Sherman pointed out–"that this Congress–over the objection of the State Department–appropriated $12.5 million in 1998 and another $7.5 million in 1999 for projects in Nagorno Karabakh. Only about $8 million of that has been obligated and I hope to hear the you are moving forward–very expeditiously–to spend all the money appropriated by Congress. I would hate to think that an objection to the appropriation–which is your right during the Congressional process–carried over to any reluctance to fully implement the Congressional appropriation."

Director Atwood–following his testimony on the Administration’s proposed FY2000 budget for USAID–answered Rep. Sherman’s concerns as follows:

"Mr. Sherman asked about Azerbaijan and Armenia. We continue to operate under the law with respect to Azerbaijan. The program is a humanitarian program–we are not allowed development work in that country under Section 907. We will be reviewing Section 907 to see whether we can make a change. Armenia receives a higher per capita amount of US foreign aid than any foreign country other than two others. So it is third on the list at $28 per Armenian citizen. So I think we are being generous–even though this budget does call for a slight decrease in our fee to Armenia. We are able–in contrast to working in Azerbaijan–to do development programs in Armenia and we would like to see more progress made on policy reform in the area–but the fact of the matter is that we are able to do development work–where we can’t do that in Azerbaijan.

"I hope by the time they are required to report before Congress on the [funds] that you appropriated for Nagorno Karabakh–they will be able to tell you that you’ve spent that and spent it all wisely. We know you want us to spend the money. We do have an obligation to make sure it is spent wisely and for the purposes you intended. No–there is no reluctance to spend that money. It’s just that we must find worthy causes on which to spend it."

"We very much appreciate Congressman Sherman’s efforts to educate his colleagues about the Administration’s misplaced aid priorities for the Caucasus," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "The sharp increase in US assistance proposed for Azerbaijan rewards Haydar Aliyev’s regime for rejecting the OSCE peace proposal–abusing the human rights of its own citizens–and maintaining blockades of neighboring states."

During the question and answer session following Atwood’s testimony–Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.)–speaking in harsh terms–criticized Armenia and put the Armenian American community on notice that it must reverse Armenia’s "anti-American" course or face negative consequences on Capitol Hill. Referring to Congressman Sherman’s earlier remarks–Rep. Bereuter stated–"I do hope that the Armenian lobby which is so influential in California will understand that you have got about a year to try and change the anti-American–pro-Russian attitude in Armenia or there will be some changes made around here."

"Neither Congressman Bereuter’s acceptance of Azerbaijani mischaracterizations of Armenia nor his irresponsible attack on the civic and electoral participation of the California Armenian community can obscure the facts of Armenia’s strong partnership with the United States on a broad range of issues," said Hamparian. "Among these are Armenia’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace–and Armenia’s acceptance of the OSCE’s Nagorno Karabakh peace plan–which the United States helped draft but which Azerbaijan has rejected. Armenia abides by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty–despite repeated Azerbaijani violations and a massive Turkish military buildup. Additionally–Armenia has been widely praised by the US government for building a stable democracy and moving forward on economic reforms–areas in which Azerbaijan has been sharply criticized by the US and the international community."

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