Pallone Calls for Parity in Armenia Azerbaijan Military Assistance

WASHINGTON–DC–Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–Co-Chairman of the Armenian Issues Caucus–took the floor of the US House of Representatives Tuesday to criticize the Administration’s "breach of an agreement struck between the White House and Congress in 2001 to maintain parity in US military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan," reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Bush Administration recommended last month–in its Fiscal Year 2007 budget–that Azerbaijan receive significantly more military training and hardware than Armenia. The President also proposed cutting US economic aid to Armenia from last year’s appropriation of $74.4 million to $50 million–a nearly 33% reduction.

The New Jersey Congressman explained to his House colleagues that–"a lack of military parity would weaken ongoing peace negotiations regarding Nagorno Karabagh. Furthermore–I believe that any imbalance will contribute to further instability in the region if military parity is not achieved." He added that–"failing to respect the parity agreement undermines the role of the US as an impartial mediator of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict."

Representative Pallone closed his remarks by noting that–"in the coming weeks I will advocate to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee to restore military parity–to increase economic assistance to Armenia–and to provide for humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno Karabagh. It is incredibly important to reward our allies and to send a message to Azerbaijan and Turkey that ethnically charged genocides–illegal blockades of sovereign nations–and the constant harassment of the Armenian people will not be tolerated."

"We want to thank Congressman Pallone for his longstanding leadership in educating his colleagues about the important US interests served by our assistance program to Armenia–direct aid to Nagorno Karabagh–and the other Armenia-related provisions in the Foreign Operations bill–most recently and notably–the need for maintaining parity in US military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We also want to express our appreciation to Congressman Knollenberg for his work–within the Foreign Operations Subcommittee itself–generating vital support for maintaining military parity and other key provisions of special concern to the Armenian American community."

The President’s proposal for Freedom Support Act aid is $50 million for Armenia–$28 million for Azerbaijan–and $58 million for Georgia. His Foreign Military Financing proposals are $3.5 million for Armenia–$4.5 million for Azerbaijan–and $10 million for Georgia. The White House’s recommendation to Congress for International Military Education and Training is $790,000 for Armenia–$885,000 for Azerbaijan–and $1,235,000 for Georgia.

The Foreign Operations Subcommittees of the Senate and House Appropriation Committees are currently reviewing the President’s proposed budget and are each drafting their own versions of the FY 2007 foreign assistance bill.

The agreement to maintain parity in US military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan was struck between the White House and Congress in 2001–in the wake of Congressional action granting the President the authority to waive the Section 907 restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan. The ANCA has vigorously defended this principle–stressing in correspondence–at senior level meetings–and through grassroots activism–that a tilt in military spending toward Azerbaijan would destabilize the region–emboldening the Azeri leadership to continue their threats to impose a military solution to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. More broadly–the ANCA has underscored that breaching the parity agreement would reward the leadership of Azerbaijan for walking away from the OSCE’s Key West peace talks–the most promising opportunity to resolve the Nagorno Karabagh conflict in nearly a decade. Finally–failing to respect the parity agreement undermines the role of the US as an impartial mediator of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict.

The full text of Congressman Pallone’s remarks are provided below.

Congressman Frank Pallone–Jr.’s Floor Statement

Foreign Operations Request: March 7–2006

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker–the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2007 proposes 20 percent more military aid to Azerbaijan than to Armenia. This request is a clear breach of an agreement struck between the White House and the Congress in 2001 to maintain parity in U.S. military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Mr. Speaker–the parity agreement is unfortunately a battle that the Armenian people have had to fight in the past. The fiscal year 2005 Presidential request was similar in that it called for more military funding to Azerbaijan.

However–the Congress reversed the President to ensure military parity in the fiscal year 2005 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. After that battle and the President’s 2006 budget request that included parity –I thought the President’s fiscal year 2007 budget would continue that policy. But unfortunately that was not the case. A lack of military parity would–in my opinion–weaken ongoing peace negotiations regarding Nagorno Karabagh–among other things.

It will also contribute to further instability in the region–and it undermines the role of the United States as an impartial mediator of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. Mr. Speaker–the government should not be rewarding the Government of Azerbaijan for walking away from the organization for security and cooperation in Europe’s Key West peace talks–the most promising opportunity to resolve the Nagorno Karabagh conflict in nearly a decade.

Mr. Speaker–unfortunately–the administration’s budget also calls for drastic cuts in economic assistance to Armenia. I was discouraged to see that the President requested a 33 percent decrease in economic aid from $74.4 million last year to $50 million this year. Technical and developmental assistance and investment is essential to Armenia. This funding is key to democratic stability and economic reform in the country.

Mr. Speaker–is this the message we want to send to our friends in Armenia? Do we want to cut economic aid to a country that is terrorized by its neighbors and is shut off on its eastern and western borders due to an illegal blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan?

Mr. Speaker–in the coming weeks I will advocate to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee to restore military parity –to increase economic assistance to Armenia and to provide for humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno Karabagh. It is incredibly important to reward our allies and to send a message to Azerbaijan and Turkey that ethnically charged genocides–illegal blockades of sovereign nations–and the constant harassment of the Armenian people will not be tolerated.

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