House Adopts Amendment Blocking US Subsidy for Railroad Bypass

WASHINGTON–The Armenian National Committee of America–this week–welcomed the adoption by the House of Representatives of an amendment to block US taxpayer funding for an unnecessary and costly proposed railroad between Turkey and Georgia that would–if built–circumvent Armenia and–in the process–undermine the economic viability of the existing Caucasus railroad route through Armenia.

The amendment–spearheaded by Representatives Joe Crowley (D-NY)–Ed Royce (R-CA)–and Brad Sherman (D-CA)–and adopted as part of the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006–prohibits the Export-Import Bank from providing any assistance "to develop or promote any rail connections or railway-related connections that traverse or connect Baku–Azerbaijan; Tbilisi–Georgia; and Kars–Turkey–and that specifically exclude cities in Armenia." The measure was adopted unanimously by the House Financial Services Committee in June of this year.

The Crowley Amendment is similar to the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2006. This measure was introduced in both the House (H.R.3361)–by Representative Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)–and in the Senate (S 2461) by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). The House version has 85 cosponsors; the Senate version has been cosponsored by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Paul Sarbanes (D-MD). Both measures stress that US policy should oppose the "The exclusion of Armenia from regional economic and commercial undertakings in the South Caucasus," noting that such actions "undermine the United States policy goal of promoting a stable and cooperative environment in the region."

"We thank Congressman Crowley–his Financial Services Committee colleagues Ed Royce and Brad Sherman–as well as the authors of the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act – Joe Knollenberg–Frank Pallone and George Radanovich – for securing the adoption by the House of this measure protecting American taxpayers from subsidizing an ill-advised and over-priced railroad project that – at the insistence of Turkey and Azerbaijan – has been proposed solely for the purpose of excluding Armenia," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA.

In debate leading up to the adoption of the bill–Representatives Crowley–Knollenberg and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) each cited the importance of barring US funds from this ill-advised Caucasus venture which would exclude Armenia. Rep. Crowley noted that–"for over 10 years–Armenia has fought an illegal blockade imposed on them by the countries of Turkey and Azerbaijan. These two countries continually exclude Armenia from regional development… Exclusion of one country in regional projects only fosters instability. Having Export-Import Bank support a railway project which excludes Armenia is not the way to include all countries in regional development."

Rep. Knollenberg noted that "the design for the new rail line defies logistical and geographical logic–and intends to prevent future economic development from reaching Armenia. The proposed rail link would cost between $400 million and $800 million and would take years to construct–even though a perfectly workable rail link that goes through the city of Gyumri–Armenia already exists and would be fully operational with a few minor repairs. Mr. Speaker–I commend my colleagues on the House Financial Services Committee that included this provision into this bill and I urge support for passage of H.R. 5068."

Rep. Maloney joined her House colleagues in noting that–"as a proud member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues and the representative of a large and vibrant Armenian-American community–I support the provisions which would prohibit the Export-Import Bank from funding railroad projects in South Caucasus region that deliberately exclude Armenia."

A proposed new Caucasus rail line – at the urging of Turkey and Azerbaijan – would circumvent Armenia. Promoters of the project have sought–even at the planning stages–to secure US financing for this undertaking–prompting Congressional supporters of regional peace and stability to preemptively block such attempts.

In October of last year–the European Commission voiced official opposition to the proposed Caucasus railroad bypass of Armenia. A formal statement by the Commission’s Directorate General for Transport and Energy noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars–Gyumri–and Tbilisi.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank’s mission is to assist in financing the export of US goods and services to international markets.

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