Senate Votes to Allow Presidential Waiver of Section 907

WASHINGTON–In a setback to the cause of lifting Azerbaijan’s dual blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–the US Senate today–under extraordinary pressure from the State Department–approved a broadly worded waiver of Section 907 that would provide President Bush with–in practical terms–nearly unrestricted authority to provide military aid to Azerbaijan–despite that nation’s recent threats of renewed aggression towards Karabakh and its long-standing refusal to comply with the terms of this nine year old law–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Senate voted by voice vote to amend the fiscal year 2002 foreign aid bill to include language which would modify Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–allowing the President to waive this law if he determines that providing US assistance to Azerbaijan:

a. is necessary to support United States efforts to counter terrorism; or

b. is necessary to support the operational readiness of United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter terrorism; or

c. is important to Azerbaijan’s border security; and

d. will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.

"We are extremely disappointed by the Senate’s action this evening and will continue to press forward with our efforts throughout the remainder of the legislative process to educate members of Congress about the negative impact that weakening Section 907 will have for US interests in the Caucasus region," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

The language adopted today by the Senate was an amended version of a stand-alone resolution introduced last week by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would have given the President full waiver authority over all restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan. The revised version of the amendment was introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)–the Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

The Senate defense of Section 907 was led by Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes–a long-time friend of the Armenian American community and a prominent advocate of principled foreign policy. The Senate also approved a companion measure–introduced by Senator McConnell that would allocate $4 million in foreign military financing assistance and $600,000 in international military education and training assistance to Armenia.

The House–in its version of the foreign aid bill passed earlier this year–maintained Section 907 in its current form. The Senate version included $90 million in US aid to Armenia–while the House has set aside $82.5 million for this purpose. Members of a House-Senate conference committee will now meet to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The ANCA and a broad range of Armenian American community organizations will continue to work through the remainder of the legislative process to defend Section 907 by seeking to block or limit the authority of the President to waive this provision of law.

Section 907 of the Freedom Support–enacted in 1992–restricts certain types of direct US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until that government has taken demonstrable steps to lift its blockades and stop its aggression against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The measure has withstood a number of legislative attacks–including votes on the floor of the Senate in 1999 and the House of Representatives in 1998. The action earlier today took place in an environment in which grassroots advocacy and the dissemination of information to Senators was virtually impossible due to the closure of Senate offices over recent anthrax attacks. In these circumstances–citizen advocacy was seriously disadvantaged–giving the State Department the upper hand.

President Kocharian and a Coalition of Armenian American Groups urged President Bush to Support Section 907

Armenian President Robert Kocharian–in an October 9th letter to President Bush–outlined the negative impact that weakening Section 907 would have on the OSCE Minsk Group mediated Nagorno Karabakh peace process. In his letter–he explained that Section 907 and the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia have been interlinked through the life of this conflict–and are part of the overall package of issues that require resolution. He noted that removing one element independently would irreparably damage the peace process. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian traveled to Washington–DC this week for discussions on a range of issues. Among the issues he addressed were Armenia’s cooperation in the war on terrorism and the impact that weakening Section 907 would have on the regional balance in the Caucasus.

Seventeen leading national organizations–representing a critical mass of the Armenian American grassroots–through a broad spectrum of political–religious–and humanitarian groups–wrote to President Bush on the eve of the Senate vote to express their "unambiguous support for Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act as a vital element of US policy toward the Caucasus and a key instrument of stability in a region of great strategic significance to our nation during this time of crisis."

The groups argued that waiving Section 907 "in the absence of demonstrable steps by Azerbaijan to fully comply with its terms–would undermine the United States’ ability to advance our interests and values in the Caucasus–particularly at a time when Azerbaijan has been exhibiting such a stridently bellicose posture towards Armenia." This reference was to recent statemen’s by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev–Defense Minister Abiyev and Foreign Minister Guliev–all of whom recently advocated a military solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. According to a Reuters report published today–President Aliyev warned Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Parliamentary Group Chairman Adrian Severin that "either the OSCE Minsk group takes a position of principle on this matter or we will have to free our land by military means."

Cosigners of the community letter to President Bush were: Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics; Armenian Evangelical Union of North America; Armenian Missionary Association of America; Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern Region; Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Western Region; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern Region; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Western Region; Armenian American Democratic Leadership Council; Armenian Bar Association; Armenian General Benevolent Union; Armenian National Committee of America; Armenian Relief Society; Armenian Youth Federation of America–Hamazkayn Armenian Cultural and Educational Association; Homenetmen Armenian General Athletic Union; Knights of Vartan–and; National Organization of Republican Armenia’s.

The Armenian Assembly declined to sign the community letter–choosing instead to publicly state–in press releases–community letters–and on its website–its refusal to support the community-wide effort to defend Section 907.

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