House Members Press Bush Administration on Proposal to Break Armenia Azerbaijan Military Parity

REP. PALLONE INITIATES LETTER TO PRES. BUSH CALLING FOR BALANCED REGIONAL POLICY; REPS. SHERMAN–SCHIFF–AND NAPOLITANO QUESTION SECRETARY POWELL ON FY 2005 BUDGET REQUEST

WASHINGTON–DC (ANCA)–Members of Congress raised concerns last week about President Bush’s FY 2005 budget proposal that would break the military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). If the Administration’s request is adopted–Azerbaijan would receive $8.75 million in US military assistance–$6 million more than neighboring Armenia.

Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) called on his Congressional Colleagues on Friday–to co-sign a letter to President Bush expressing concern about the decision. The letter states that the Congressional signatories "strongly believe that your request in this area would undermine the stability in the South Caucasus region–and would weaken the ongoing peace negotiations regarding the Karabagh conflict." It concludes by saying that Members of Congress–"will work to reinstate this vital policy." House Members will have until February 24 to co-sign the letter.

During a hearing on Wednesday that focused on proposed foreign assistance funding levels in the President’s FY 2005 budget–Members of the House International Relations Committee pressed Secretary of State Colin Powell on the Administration’s decision. California Democrat Brad Sherman asked Secretary Powell whether it is "a good idea to have Azerbaijan get a lot more military foreign aid than Armenia–when the practice in the past has been to keep parity in military assistance." Rep. Sherman reminded Secretary Powell about Azerbaijan’s lack of cooperation in the Mountainous Karabagh peace talks–following the summit held at Key West in 2001.

Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Grace Napolitano (D-CA) submitted similar concerns in writing to Secretary Powell. "Given the fact that Azerbaijan has a poor human rights record and that the Government of Azerbaijan walked away from the OSCE’s Key West peace talks aimed at resolving the Karabagh conflict–why has the Administration submitted a request for $8 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Azerbaijan and only $2 million in FMF for Armenia (an even greater disparity than last year’s request of $5 million in FMF for Azerbaijan and $3 million for Armenia)," stated Rep. Schiff. He noted–"Doesn’t this send the wrong signal to Azerbaijan about their behavior over the past year?" Rep. Napolitano asked–"Would not the Administration’s actions only serve to legitimize Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades of Armenia and Karabagh and its periodic threats to renew military aggression?" Secretary Powell is expected to respond to these concerns in writing in the upcoming weeks.

Prior to FY 2002–military assistance to Azerbaijan was prohibited according to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–a provision that restricted US assistance to Azerbaijan due to its ongoing blockades of Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11–2001–Azerbaijan conditioned its cooperation with the United States in the war against terrorism on the removal of Section 907. In response–the Administration pressed Congress to provide the President with the authority to waive Section 907 annually. Part of the understanding reached between the White House and Congress was an unwritten agreement that military aid levels to Armenia and Azerbaijan would remain even.

As a result of this agreement–in FY02–FY03–and FY04–military aid levels proposed by the Administration and appropriated by Congress have been identical.

On release of the President’s FY 2005 budget proposal–the ANCA issued a briefing paper–distributed to Congressional offices and other elemen’s of the Washington–DC foreign policy community–outlining the negative implications of the budget figures for stability in the Caucasus and the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Karabagh conflict.

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