Bill Introduced in Senate to Block Funding for Proposed Railway Project Excluding Armenia

WASHINGTON–DC–Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and newly appointed New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced legislation this week that would prohibit US assistance for the building of railroads traversing the Caucasus that circumvent Armenia–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The legislation mirrors a similar House measure (HR 3361) called the "South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2005," introduced by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in June–2005. The House version of the legislation currently has 77 cosponsors.

"We welcome this effort to protect US taxpayers from subsidizing an ill-advised and over-priced railroad project that–at the insistence of Turkey and Azerbaijan–has been specifically designed to exclude Armenia," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "Constructing this railroad around Armenia runs directly counter to US foreign policy–is commercially untenable–and will only serve to institutionalize Turkey and Azerbaijan’s blockades of Armenia."

In his speech on the Senate floor–S 2461 original cosponsor Senator Menendez noted the Turkish government’s ongoing campaign to "isolate Armenia economically–politically–and socially," citing Turkey’s 13-year blockade of Armenia and–more recently–the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline–which also circumvents Armenia. "US policy in the South Caucasus seeks to foster regional cooperation and economic integration and supports open borders and transport and communication corridors. US support for this project would run counter to that policy which is why Senator Santorum and I are introducing this legislation today."

In May–2005–the president of Azerbaijan–Ilham Aliyev–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili–and Turkey’s President Akhmed Nedget Sezer announced their intention to construct the railway corridor linking Turkey–Tbilisi–and Baku. The project would effectively replace the Kars-Gyumri railroad route–which has been blockaded by Turkey for more than a decade. The governmental and commercial interests involved in the project–estimated at between $600 million and $1 billion–will almost certainly turn to the US government for financial support–subsidies–favorable lending terms–and low-cost risk insurance–as they did for the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline route.

In October 2005–the European Commission added its voice to the growing international opposition to a Caucasus railroad. The Commission’s position was articulated by the Directorate General for Transport and Energy. In explaining why the European Union would not support the creation of this rail line–the Directorate noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars–Gyumri–and Tbilisi.

Sen. Menendez’ complete statement follows.

Statement by Senator Robert Menendez upon Introduction of S 2461

Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President–I rise today to introduce legislation to block US support for yet another anti-Armenian initiative.

In numerous cases over the last few years–the Turkish government has methodically sought to isolate Armenia economically–politically and socially. One of the most egregious examples was the imposition of a 1993 blockade against Armenia in support of Azerbaijan’s war against Karabagh Armenia’s.

The Turkish government has routinely sought to exclude Armenia from projects that would benefit the economies of the countries of the South Caucasus. The latest example of this policy is the proposal to build a new rail line that would connect Turkey–Georgia and Azerbaijan. Similar to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline–this rail link would specifically go around Armenia.

Now–geographically–we all know that a pipeline or rail line that seeks to connect Turkey–Georgia and Azerbaijan would have to pass through Armenia. One would have to make a special effort to bypass Armenia.

The US should not endorse Turkey and Azerbaijan’s politically motivated attempt to isolate Armenia.

I therefore rise today in opposition to this plan–and to introduce legislation–along with my colleague–Senator SANTORUM–that would bar US support and funding for a rail link connecting Georgia and Turkey–and which specifically excludes Armenia. This project is estimated to cost up to $800 million and would take three years to complete. The aim of this costly approach–as publicly stated by Azeri President Aliyev–is to isolate Armenia by enhancing the ongoing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and to keep the existing Turkey-Armenia-Georgia rail link shut down. This ill-conceived project runs counter to US policy–ignores the standing Kars-Gyumri rail route–is politically and economically flawed and serves to destabilize the region.

US policy in the South Caucasus seeks to foster regional cooperation and economic integration and supports open borders and transport and communication corridors. US support for this project would run counter to that policy which is why Senator Santorum and I are introducing this legislation today.

We cannot continue to stoke the embers of regional conflict by supporting projects that deliberately exclude one of the region’s most important members. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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