ANCA Urges Key House and Senate Panels to Support Continued Armenia-Azerbaijan Military Aid Parity

WASHINGTON–The Armenian National Committee of America Wednesday, called on key Congressional foreign aid appropriators to maintain current levels of US assistance to Armenia, expand the Nagorno Karabakh humanitarian and developmental aid package, and keep in place the agreement to ensure parity in US military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The ANCA’s roll-out of the Armenian American community’s foreign aid priorities comes in the wake of the Administration’s recent release of its fiscal year (FY) 2008 proposed budget request. The President’s request would reduce US assistance to Armenia from $75 million to $35 million, breaks military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and makes no specific mention of US assistance levels for Nagorno Karabakh. In February 13 letters to each of the members of the House and Senate State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee members, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian highlighted Armenia’s growing relationship with the United States: "We are, of course, very proud that Armenia has been a good friend to America, providing strong and consistent support to the global war on terror, taking part in the NATO Partnership for Peace, and contributing forces to Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as for peacekeeping operations in Kosovo." The ANCA argued for maintaining US economic assistance to Armenia at least at the current level of $75 million, noting that "in great measure as a result of reforms supported by US economic development programs, Armenia’s economy has grown by more than 10 percent in each of the past six years, more than doubling the size of Armenia’s Gross National Product. Sadly, however, the people of Armenia are still faced with the devastating impact of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s illegal dual blockaded–estimated by the World Bank as costing Armenia at least $720 million on an annual basis." In urging a shift in US aid to Nagorno Karabakh from humanitarian to developmental programs, Hamparian stressed that this expansion "would reflect our success in leveraging local efforts to dramatically reduce Nagorno Karabakh’s once-daunting humanitarian challenges. The time has come to support Nagorno Karabakh’s young democracy and its efforts to expand its free market economy by funding programs aimed at supporting democratic governance, encouraging sustainable economic development, and creating conditions conducive to greater stability and lasting peace in this strategically important region." Citing the agreement struck between the Congress and the Administration in 2001 to maintain US military aid parity to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Hamparian argued that any retreat from this principle would "destabilize the region and embolden the Azerbaijani leadership to act on their threats to impose a military solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict." He added that, "more broadly, the ANCA has underscored that breaching the parity agreement would reward the leadership of Azerbaijan for obstructing the peace process, while at the same time undermining the role of the US as an impartial mediator of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict." Finally, Hamparian urged support for a $200,000 allocation for the California-Armenia Trade Office, dedicated to strengthening American company trade with Armenia and surrounding countries. He noted that, "this modest commitment of resources will expand US access to foreign markets and trade and help keep these countries economically viable and independent. California, which boasts the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia, almost 1,000,000 strong, is the natural partner here in the United States to serve as the foundation for this important relationship." The complete text of the ANCA letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on State-Foreign Operations is provided below. Text of ANCA letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on State-Foreign Operations February 13, 2007 The Honorable Nita Lowey Chairwoman State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee Committee on Appropriations US House of Representative Washington, DC 20515 Dear Chairwoman Lowey: I am writing to you, after having reviewed the President’s recently released Fiscal Year 2008 budget request, to share the Armenian American community’s views on several provisions that will likely be addressed as part of your panel’s consideration of the FY 2008 State-Foreign Operations bill. Before touching on these specific points, I would like to express once again our community’s profound appreciation for the role that you and this Subcommittee have played in strengthening the special relationship between the United States and Armenia, and reinforcing the enduring bonds that have long existed between the American and Armenian peoples. Armenian Americans deeply appreciate America’s helping hand, both as a reflection and a practical expression of the commitment of the United States to Armenia’s independence, security, and prosperity. We are, of course, very proud that Armenia has been a good friend to America, providing strong and consistent support to the global war on terror, taking part in the NATO Partnership for Peace, and contributing forces to Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as for peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Our specific concerns are outlined below: 1. Parity in military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan: We call for the appropriation of equal levels of military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan, in accord with the agreement struck between the White House and the Congress during deliberations, in late 2001, over the conditional waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act. This agreement was struck between the White House and Congress in 2001, during deliberations over granting the President the authority to waive the Section 907 restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan. The Armenian American community has vigorously defended this principle, stressing that a tilt in military spending toward Azerbaijan would destabilize the region and embolden the Azerbaijani leadership to act on their threats to impose a military solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. More broadly, the ANCA has underscored that breaching the parity agreement would reward the leadership of Azerbaijan for obstructing the peace process, while at the same time undermining the role of the US as an impartial mediator of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. In a clear breach of this agreement, the Administration, in its FY 2008 budget proposal, has called for breaking parity, in Azerbaijan’s favor, in both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET). We ask the panel to reject this ill-advised proposal by restoring military aid parity. In addition, we encourage the panel to carefully monitor all military aid provided to Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the Caspian Guard Program, Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, De-mining and Related Assistance, and other military-related programs, to ensure that both the principle and practice of military aid parity is maintained in all spheres. Each dollar in US military assistance–either specifically appropriated or provided at the discretion of the Administration–should be matched with a dollar of military aid to Armenia. 2. Economic Assistance to Armenia: We urge you to include language requiring no less than $75 million in direct US economic assistance to Armenia in FY 2008. Since Armenia’s independence in 1991, US assistance has played a vital role in meeting humanitarian needs, fostering democratic reforms, and building self-sustaining economic growth. Today, with the help of the United States, Armenia is a member of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, has signed bilateral agreemen’s with the United States on trade relations, investmen’s, and the protection of investmen’s, holds regular Economic Task Force meetings on US-Armenia economic cooperation, and – in 2005 – was granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations status. The Wall Street Journal-Heritage Foundation 2007 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Armenia as the 32nd freest economy in the world, based on a study that covered 10 broad factors of economic freedom, including property rights protection, regulatory environment, tax rates, fiscal policy, government intervention in the economy, monetary policy, black markets, and trade policy. In great measure as a result of reforms supported by US economic development programs, Armenia’s economy has grown by more than 10 percent in each of the past six years, more than doubling the size of Armenia’s Gross National Product. Sadly, however, the people of Armenia are still faced with the devastating impact of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s illegal dual blockades – estimated by the World Bank as costing Armenia at least $720 million on an annual basis. The Armenian American community is, of course, tremendously encouraged by Armenia’s participation in the Millennium Challenge Account, the new and innovative merit-based foreign aid program. We wish to be clear, however, that this program does not serve as a substitute for assistance provided by the Congress under the FREEDOM Support Act. In fact, the Administration made clear to Congress when the MCA program was initiated that it would very explicitly not be a substitute for normal foreign aid but would rather serve to augment it. In this case, the MCA is specifically designed to help alleviate poverty through the strengthening of Armenia’s rural infrastructure, primarily in the areas of roads and irrigation. The FSA, by contrast, provides concrete and vitally needed assistance for key reforms in democratic governance, health care, social protection, and education. 3. US Assistance to Nagorno Karabakh: We encourage the panel to allocate no less than $10 million in its FY 2008 bill for programs in Nagorno Karabakh, and to gradually retarget this aid package from humanitarian to development assistance. For the past decade, the US Congress has played a unique and vital role in providing direct aid to meet pressing humanitarian needs in Nagorno Karabakh, helping its people to rebuild their lives after years of devastating Azerbaijani aggression. The expansion of our efforts to include development aid would reflect our success in leveraging local efforts to dramatically reduce Nagorno Karabakh’s once-daunting humanitarian challenges. The time has come to support Nagorno Karabakh’s young democracy and its efforts to expand its free market economy by funding programs aimed at supporting democratic governance, encouraging sustainable economic development, and creating conditions conducive to greater stability and lasting peace in this strategically important region. For this crucial transition to begin, Congress needs to clearly specify in its FY 2008 State-Foreign Operations bill that US assistance for programs in Nagorno Karabakh must include development programs. 4. Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act: We ask the panel to keep Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act in place and to ensure strict compliance by the Administration of the conditional authority it has been granted by Congress to waive this law. 5. California-Armenia Trade Office: We urge the panel to appropriate $200,000 to allow the California-Armenia Trade Office to expand its operations to assist business communities in California as well as other US states. Currently, this office, the only official American trade representation in the Republic of Armenia, is operated by the Foundation for Economic Development, a California not-for-profit corporation that has been contracted by the State of California to handle its operations. CATO began operations in October of 2005 under the auspices of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, but is funded entirely through privately raised donations. Though located in Armenia, it serves a much larger region, covering the Newly Independent States and the countries of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The mission of the Trade Office is to assist California companies increase their exports to Armenia and the surrounding region, as well as to help companies from the region to build commercial and investment relationships with businesses in California. This modest commitment of resources will expand US access to foreign markets and trade and help keep these countries economically viable and independent. California, which boasts the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia, almost 1,000,000 strong, is the natural partner here in the United States to serve as the foundation for this important relationship. In closing, please know that the ANCA respects and values your friendship and the Subcommittee’s long-standing leadership on issues of concern to the Armenian American community. Your attention to the important matters outlined in this correspondence is greatly appreciated. We would, of course, welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these matters in greater detail. Sincerely, [signed] Aram S. Hamparian Executive Director

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