Bush Asks Congress to Reward Azerbaijan

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–Azerbaijan has given the United States intelligence information and the use of airspace and air bases for the US campaign against the al Qaeda organization–according to a letter available on Tuesday.

The Bush administration wants Congress to reward the Azeri government by enabling US financial aid–blocked since 1992 because of legislation linked to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia–it added.

The letter–from US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–says the United States urgently needs to help the Azeri intelligence and law enforcement agencies and work with the Azeri financial authorities to "track and disrupt assets of the terror network (al Qaeda).”

"The campaign’s evolution will probably bring other requiremen’s to the fore that we will need flexibility to address,” added the letter–dated Tuesday.

With US aid–the Azeri government will be better placed to receive US military assistance to counter terrorist organizations inside Azerbaijan–it said.

Powell told the Senators–Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware and Republican Jesse Helms of North Carolina–that the administration wanted help in passing legislation that would give it "a national security interest waiver”–authority to lift the ban on aid in the national interest.

The ban is enshrined in the Freedom Support Act of 1992–which prevents US aid to the Azeri government until the US President determines that the government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps "to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force” against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The United States has tried to mediate in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh–an Armenian enclave in western Azerbaijan–notably by bringing the presidents of the two countries together in Florida in April.

A US official said the previous administration of President Bill Clinton had sought but failed to obtain a waiver for the sanctions against Azerbaijan. "Armenian-American groups will not be happy," he added.

Sen. Helms favors repealing the ban on aid–an aide said. A spokeswomen for the Democratic staff on the Senate committee said she had not heard Biden’s latest views on the subject.

The following is the text of Collin Powell’s letter to members of Congress:

Dear Senator/Representative:

The President has asked me to request your support for providing legislative authority that would allow assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has joined the coalition to combat terrorism and has granted the United States overflight rights–the use of its air bases–and has provided critical intelligence cooperation. Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992–however–severely constrains our ability to provide most support to the Government of Azerbaijan including assistance needed to support our operations in the ongoing war against terrorism.

In addition to purely military matters–no less urgent is our need to engage and assist Azerbaijan’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It is also imperative that we assist and work with Azerbaijan’s financial authorities to track and disrupt assts of the terror network. The campaign’s evolution will probably bring other requiremen’s to the fore that we will need flexibility to address.

I request your assistance in passing legislation that would provide a national security interest waiver from the restrictions of Section 907. Removal of these restrictions will allow the United States to provide necessary military assistance that will enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist organizations and elemen’s operating within its borders. This type of assistance is a critical element of the United States fight against global terrorism.

Sincerely–Colin L. Powell

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