Pallone Praises Senate Panel’s Defense of 907

*Calls for increased US assistance to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh

"It is important that–at a time when Azerbaijan continues to reject good-faith efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict–while illegally blockading supplies of fuel–food and other essential supplies to its neighbors–that we not reward this country with additional US assistance."

– Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

WASHINGTON–Speaking on the House floor on June 18th–New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone praised a key Senate foreign aid panel’s proposal this week to increase US aid levels to Armenia and to keep in place the restriction on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan for as long as that nation blockades Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

In his remarks–Congressman Pallone applauded the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee’s June 17th decision to set an earmark of $90 million for Armenia. Noting the steps taken by Congress during the past two fiscal years to direct aid specifically to Nagorno Karabakh–he expressed disappointment over the slow pace of the delivery of this assistance.

Rep. Pallone also praised Armenia’s progress toward democracy–as evidenced by the recent Parliamentary elections–and sharply criticized the blockades imposed on Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan. He described as "inexplicable" the Administration’s proposal to increase spending for Azerbaijan while calling for reduced assistance to Armenia. In this regard–he drew the attention of his colleagues to Azerbaijan’s continued rejection of the Nagorno Karabakh peace proposal put forth by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The full text of Rep. Pallone’s statement follows.

Mr. Speaker–yesterday–in the other body–the Senate–the Appropriations Committee–marked up the foreign operation appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2000. The legislation reported out yesterday addresses several key issues concerning US policies and priorities for the Caucasus Mountain region of the former Soviet Union–an area of vital and growing importance for the US in the 21st century.

Here in the House–action on the foreign operations bill is not expected until later this summer. I wanted to take a few minutes to cite some of the key provisions in the Senate legislation that I hope the House will address–as well as to cite some additional areas where the Senate did not act–but I hope the House will.

As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–I plan to put my suggestions into a letter to the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations–and that subcommittee–I should point out–has many good friends of Armenia–and I look forward to working with them.

First–the good news–Mr. Speaker. The Senate Foreign Operations bill earmarks $90 million in assistance to the Republic of Armenia. This represents an increase over the slightly less than $80 million that was reported in fiscal year 1999–and is certainly an improvement over the $71.5 million requested by the administration in its budget. I believe it is important for the United States to maintain our support and partnership with Armenia–which continues to make major strides towards democracy–as evidenced by last month’s parliamentary elections–as well as market reforms and increasing integration with the West.

However–Armenia’s strides towards providing a better life for its people at home and being a partner for peace and stability with the West continue to be challenged by the blockades imposed by the neighboring countries–Azerbaijan and Turkey. Provisions of US support provides at least some relief from the difficulties imposed by the blockades and represents a moral statement by our country that we should try to offset the effects of the illegal blockades imposed on Armenia by its neighbors. I would urge the House subcommittee to provide the same $90 million earmark that has been included by the Senate.

Mr. Speaker–another area where I will be working to have the House follow the Senate language is with regard to something that is not there–and that is repealing section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–which restricts aid to Azerbaijan until that country lifts its blockade of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

Last month–Secretary of State Albright called on the Senate appropriators to repeal section 907. When the Freedom Support Act was adopted in 1992–establishing our post-Cold War US foreign policy for the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet empire–section 907 was included as a way of holding Azerbaijan accountable for the blockade of its neighbors. Azerbaijan has continued its strategy of trying to strangle Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. I am glad the Senate appropriators resisted the administration’s proposal to lift section 907.

As I just indicated–Azerbaijan’s blockade is against both the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Nagorno Karabakh is an historically Armenian-populated region that Stalin’s mapmakers included as part of Azerbaijan. Because Nagorno Karabakh’s independence has not been officially recognized by the United States–it was a tremendous breakthrough when Congress approved $12.5 million in assistance for Nagorno Karabakh in the fiscal year 1998 legislation. Unfortunately–much of that assistance has yet to be obligated–and while the Senate is silent on this issue–I will be working with my Armenia issues caucus colleagues to ensure the House bill also provides report language directing the Agency for International Development to expedite delivery of this assistance.

Another area where the Senate bill is silent is on the issue of the peace process for Nagorno Karabakh. The US has been one of the countries taking the lead in the peace process under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And late last year–the US and our negotiating partners put forward a proposal known as the Common State Proposal as a basis for moving the negotiations forward. Despite some serious reservations–the elected governmen’s of both Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia have accepted this Common State Proposal to get the negotiations moving forward–but Azerbaijan has flatly rejected our peace proposal.

I will work–Mr. Speaker–to include language in the House foreign operations appropriations bill to urge the administration to stay the course in the Nagorno Karabakh peace process and not let the rejectionist policies of the Azerbaijan cause us to back down in the search for a just and lasting solution to this conflict–providing for the full self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh.

I do appreciate the fact that the Senate did not buy into the administration’s inexplicable proposal to increase aid to Azerbaijan and decrease aid to Armenia. As I indicated–the Senate language provides for an increase in assistance to Armenia. It does not provide any specific mention of aid to Azerbaijan.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union–as the countries of the collapsing empire attained their independence–Azerbaijan attempted to militarily crush Nagorno Karabakh and drive out the Armenian population. But the Karabakh Armenia’s ultimately won their war of independence–and a cease-fire was signed in 1994.

American humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan–via Non-Governmental Organizations has not been affected by Section 907. In recent years–further exemptions to Section 907 have been carved out. It is important that–at a time when Azerbaijan continues to reject good-faith efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict–while illegally blockading supplies of fuel–food and other essential supplies to its neighbors–that we not reward this country with additional US assistance.

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