Pallone Knollenberg Ask Bush for Info On Military Assistance to Azerbaijan

Co-Chairs concerned over Azerbaijan’s continued war rhetoric

WASHINGTON–Citing concern over continued war rhetoric from Azerbaijani governmental officials–US Reps. Frank Pallone–Jr. (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.)–co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–today requested President Bush provide Congress a detailed report on United States military assistance to Azerbaijan.

"We are writing to you today as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues to request detailed information from your Administration regarding events in the South Caucasus and the effects of assistance to Azerbaijan in the wake of Congressional approval of a limited–conditional waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act," Pallone and Knollenberg wrote in a letter they sent today to President Bush. "We make this request today out of concern over ongoing war rhetoric against Armenia by Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev."

Last year–Pallone and Knollenberg supported a conditional–limited waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act upon the understanding that Congress would be provided detailed reports from the State Department in order to maintain the balance in the South Caucus region. On January 30–2002–the president exercised waiver authority granted to him by Congress–which cleared the way for direct military assistance from the United States to Azerbaijan.

"We believe that in order for Congress to provide appropriate oversight–crucial questions on how United States assistance affects the relative military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan must be addressed by your Administration," Pallone and Knollenberg continued. "Therefore–we request detailed information pertaining to the nature and quantity of all training and assistance provided to Azerbaijan; the status of the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the impact of United States assistance on that balance; and the impact of United States assistance on the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh peace process."

The Caucus co-chairs wrote that Congressional oversight is particularly important at a time of continuing war rhetoric from President Aliyev and members of his government. Pallone and Knollenberg pointed to President Aliyev’s rejection of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group’s neutral stance and pledge 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."

Pallone and Knollenberg also referred to continued calls for war against the Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev. Last month–according to the Turan News Agency–Abiyev said the Azerbaijani army was ready to destroy what he claimed were terrorist centers in Nagorno-Karabakh and liberate its land. Other political officials have also been outspoken on the issue. In January–as reported by Azernews–N. Panahli–chairman of the National Statehood Party–stated that it was impossible to liberate Azeri lands occupied by Armenia peacefully.

"We are very concerned that this dangerously aggressive posture will lead to the resumption of violence," Pallone and Knollenberg continued. "Azerbaijan’s continuing war rhetoric merits a strong–public and unambiguous United States response."

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