Knollenberg Amendment to Zero-Out Military Aid to Azerbaijan Falls One Vote Short

WASHINGTON–An amendment championed by Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) to cut all military aid to Azerbaijan due to their escalating threats of war against Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia was defeated by one vote Wednesday during a meeting of the US House State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee to consider the Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09) foreign aid bill, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

"We want to thank Joe Knollenberg for his leadership in seeking to zero out military aid to Azerbaijan, and to express our appreciation to all those, like Congressmen Adam Schiff and Mark Kirk, who supported this vital legislative effort to promote peace and stability in the Caucasus," said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. "At the same time, especially given the razor-thin margin of this vote, we are saddened and disappointed by the opposition of Chairwoman Lowey, and the other Representatives who, although traditionally friends of the Armenian American community–cast their votes to block the adoption of this badly needed measure: Jesse Jackson, Jr., Steve Israel, Ben Chandler, Steve Rothman, Barbara Lee, Betty McCollum, and David Obey."

Starting in March of this year, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairmen Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), joined by thirty-seven of their House colleagues, began a broad-based, bipartisan effort to urge Subcommittee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA) to support six priorities aimed at advancing US interests and American values in Armenia and the surrounding region:

1. Cutting all military aid to Azerbaijan due to its threats of enewed war
2. Allocating $5 million in military aid to Armenia
3. Continuing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act
4. Allocating $70 million in economic aid to Armenia
5. Allocating $10 million in development aid to Nagorno Karabakh
6. Lifting barriers to US-Nagorno Karabakh contact and communications

The budget proposed by the White House this February sought to dramatically slash aid to Armenia by 59%, and, once again, proposed tipping the military aid balance in favor of Azerbaijan, despite Baku’s threats to use it growing military arsenal to restart its war against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

Over the past several months, rallied by the ANCA, Armenian Americans have been in touch with their legislators about the dangers of the President’s proposed cuts in aid to Armenia, and in support of a constructive set of foreign policies toward Armenia and the region.

Last month, during a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Knollenberg cross-examined Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried regarding the State Department failure to meaningfully challenge Azerbaijan’s war rhetoric against neighboring Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. Earlier today, as he entered the foreign aid mark-up, the Michigan legislator stated, that: "For the security of Armenia and the region, I strongly believe that the Azeri war machine must be stopped. This is why it is completely unbelievable and unacceptable that there would be any US funding of Azerbaijan’s military. I will fight to strip this money from the budget to ensure Armenia’s continued safety. The US absolutely must not fund or support the Azeri’s bellicose behavior."

The panel approved $52 million in assistance to Armenia, $8 for Nagorno Karabakh and, by rejecting the Knollenberg Amendment, effectively maintained parity in military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to traditional Congressional practice, the bill next goes to the full Appropriations Committee for consideration before reaching the House floor, although the exact legislative path for this measure remains unclear. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the Senate version of the foreign aid bill on Thursday, July 17.

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