Congress Delegation Urges Maintaining Section 907

* Reps. Morella–Pallone–Capuano and Woolsey call for initiatives which "promote regional cooperation–security and economic growth in the South Caucasus."

WASHINGTON–Upon their return from a week-long visit to Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan in August–five members of the US House have urged the key Senate-House panel responsible for finalizing the fiscal year 2000 foreign aid bill to adopt a $90 million earmark for Armenia–continue aid to Nagorno Karabakh–and maintain the ban on US aid to Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA.)

In a letter co-signed by each of the members of the delegation–Representatives Connie Morella (R-Md.)–Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) stressed that US multilateral assistance to any government in the region "should be proportional to its willingness to cooperate with the [OSCE] Minsk Group and other efforts to resolve regional conflicts." Both Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh have agreed to the most recent proposals presented by the Minsk group–which serves as the key mediating body for the Nagorno Karabakh conflict–while Azerbaijan continues to refuse its proposals.

In urging continued high levels of aid to Armenia–the Representatives called for $15 million to be earmarked to help the population in the area devastated by Armenia’s 1988 earthquake. "The needs in the earthquake zone–particularly for new housing construction–require special assistance," explained members of the delegation–who saw the conditions of displaced families first hand during their visit. The co-signers also expressed concern about the status of US funds previously appropriated for Nagorno Karabakh–and noted that they "support the House language directing the Agency for International Development [USAID] to expedite delivery of $20 million to the victims of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict residing in Nagorno Karabakh–through September 30–2000."

Senate and House Foreign Operations conferees will be meeting later this month to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2000 foreign aid bill. The full text of the delegation’s letter follows.

Dear Conferees:

During the August recess–we took part in a Congressional Delegation to the Southern Caucasus region. Our itinerary included stops in Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan. We met with the Presidents and other political leaders–American business people and investors–and aid workers implementing programs enacted through the Foreign Operations Appropriations. We also had the opportunity to meet with people who have been victimized by the conflicts and natural disasters that have struck the region.

We hope that our recent visit to Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan has helped to generate added momentum for a negotiated settlement that could open up new avenues for greater regional integration and cooperation. We applaud the fact that the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met several times in the last few months in an effort to resolve the Karabakh conflict. In our meetings with all three Presidents–we stressed the importance of direct negotiations–maintaining the 1994 cease-fire–and other confidence-building measures.

The fiscal year 2000 Foreign Operations bills approved by the House and the Senate include a number of initiatives that will help to promote regional cooperation–security and economic growth in the Southern Caucasus region. We appreciate the work of the appropriators–and respectfully urge the Conferees to include the following items in the legislation.

Aid for Armenia. First–we respectfully request that the Conferees adopt the Senate earmark of $90 million for Armenia–with a sub-earmark of $15 million for the earthquake zone. We believe it is important for the United States to maintain our support and partnership with Armenia as this country continues to make major strides toward democracy–as evidenced by the May 30 Parliamentary elections–as well as market reforms and increasing integration with the West. US assistance also serves to offset the difficulties imposed on Armenia’s people as a result of the blockades maintained by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The needs in the earthquake zone–particularly for new housing construction–require special assistance.

Continue Humanitarian Aid to for Nagorno Karabakh. We strongly support the House language directing the Agency for International Development to expedite delivery of $20 million to the victims of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict residing in Nagorno Karabakh–through September 30–2000. We met with the organizations administering those aid programs–and were impressed with their needs as well as their ability to deliver necessary services. This assistance–previously appropriated but not yet obligated–is–as the House language makes clear–not to be provided to the Governmen’s of Azerbaijan or Armenia.

Encourage Progress on the Nagorno Karabakh Peace Process. We urge the Conferees to adopt the House language stating that–"The extent and timing of US and multilateral assistance–other than humanitarian assistance–to the government of any country in the Caucasus region should be proportional to its willingness to cooperate with the Minsk Group and other efforts to resolve regional conflicts." The leaders of Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh–and Azerbaijan all understand the importance the US places on progress being made with the peace process. We stressed the potential for a peace dividend in our discussions–and believe that all countries of the South Caucasus need to be mindful that US assistance is dependent upon movement towards peace.

We also urge that the Conference adopt the House language supporting the confidence-building measures discussed in the April 1999 NATO summit–in furtherance of a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict–especially in the vicinity of Nagorno Karabakh. These measure include: "strengthening compliance with the cease-fire–studying post-conflict regional development such as transportation routes and infrastructure–establishing a youth exchange program and other collaborative initiatives to foster greater understanding among the parties and reduce hostilities."

Maintain Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. There is a clear legislative history in both Bodies for preserving Section 907–which restricts certain direct government-to-government assistance to Azerbaijan until that country lifts its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–and not using the Foreign Operations bill as a vehicle for repealing the law. Last year–the full House voted to strip a provision from the FY’99 bill that would have repealed Section 907. This year–the Senate defeated a provision to waive Section 907.

We believe that these actions demonstrate a clear–bi-partisan consensus in both Houses that the conditions for lifting Section 907 have not been met. However–the prospect of the lifting of Section 907 could serve as a further incentive for advancing the peace process.

We thank you for your attention to these requests–and we appreciate your continued leadership in shaping US foreign policy in the 21st Century.

Sincerely–Constance Morella (R-Md.)–Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.)–Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).

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