Sen. Menedez Presses Obama Administration on Under-Spending of Karabakh Aid

WASHINGTON–Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), long a leading advocate on issues of concern to Armenian Americans, is pressing the Obama Administration to answer for a $25 million spending shortfall in U.S. aid intended by Congress to be allocated for Nagorno Karabakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Senator Menendez raised this issue during the November 17, 2010 confirmation hearing for a senior Administration official, Paige Eve Alexander, who has been nominated by the White House to serve as the Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. During Alexander’s appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Menendez, noted that, “of the 60 million that Congress intended for Nagorno-Karabakh over the course of the past 12 years, USAID has only extended 35 million.” He then asked her, pointedly, how she would, if approved, “respond to those realities.” He followed up by explaining that the intent of Congress was “pretty clear here,” and expressing his concern that, despite this being “one of the areas where money has actually been authorized and appropriated. . . it seems that the [State] Department, for some reason, is not moving forward.”

“We join with Armenian Americans from throughout the Garden State and across the country in thanking Senator Menendez for his leadership in ensuring strict Congressional oversight of the U.S. aid program to Nagorno Karabakh, and in expressing our appreciation for his long-time friendship with our community and cause,” said Ani Tchaghlasian of ANCA-New Jersey. “We share the Senator’s concerns about the Administration’s pattern of under-spending of desperately needed assistance to Artsakh, and look forward to learning of the steps that Assistant Administrator Alexander and her Administration colleagues will take to bring actual spending in line with the clearly expressed will of our Congress.”

Alexander responded first by stressing her support for the U.S. program for Nagorno Karabakh, noting: “Right. Absolutely, I think that the continued work on the humanitarian assistance level, everything from shelter repair to de-mining and water, are still important elements.” Without directly addressing the question posed by Senator Menendez regarding the pattern of under-spending on aid to Nagorno Karabakh, she added that, if confirmed, she will “work closely to make sure that those areas are still focused on, and that the assistance goes to where it was intended Congressionally.”

An ANCA review, released on August of this year, revealed that successive U.S. Administrations – both Democratic and Republican – have, since Fiscal Year 1998, expended $25 million less in aid to Nagorno Karabakh than Congress intended.

Click here to read the ANCA’s report – Legislative History of U.S. Assistance to Nagorno Karabakh.

The decision by the U.S. Congress in 1997, over the formal objections of the State Department, to start providing aid to Nagorno Karabakh remains a constant target for vocal attacks by the Azerbaijani government, which – both directly and through its Washington lobbyists – seeks to block the appropriation of aid for this purpose. Azerbaijani officials have argued, unsuccessfully, that, as a matter of state sovereignty, any outside aid to the people of Nagorno Karabakh must be approved by the Azerbaijani government and channeled through Baku. U.S. legislators, recognizing the political and the practical weaknesses of this reasoning, sensitive to the considerable unmet needs in Karabakh, and realizing the benefits of U.S. assistance to the search for peace in the region, have, since Fiscal Year 1998, appropriated direct aid for Nagorno Karabakh.

Commenting on the release of the report, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian said: “Armenian Americans are deeply appreciative to the U.S. Congress for its vision and generosity in initiating U.S. aid to Nagorno Karabakh, and for providing funding to help the people of Nagorno Karabakh emerge from the crisis created by Azerbaijan’s aggression, meet pressing humanitarian needs, and, develop as a free society. It is precisely because of our respect for the role of Congress and the vital aims that are served by this aid that we are so troubled by the failure of successive administrations to honor the clear intent of Congress that this vital assistance program be properly funded and fully implemented.”

A conservatively estimated ANCA review of Congressional appropriations legislation, reports, and legislative history from Fiscal Year 1998 through Fiscal Year 2010 demonstrates an intent on the part of U.S. House and Senate appropriators, during the history of this aid program, to provide $61 million in assistance to Nagorno Karabakh. In the interest of providing a cautious estimate, the ANCA review did not reflect the clear objective of legislators to provide additional allocations of aid to Nagorno Karabakh in fiscal years 2000, 2001, and 2002. In the first two of these three years, appropriators did not set a specific dollar amount, but did indicate that Nagorno Karabakh should receive new aid allocations based on a legislative formula that directed the Administration to set aside a certain amount of funding to address regional conflicts in the South Caucasus, “especially those in the vicinity of Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh.” In 2002, appropriators, again, did not set a specific dollar amount, but did call continued assistance to Nagorno Karabakh a “high priority.” Had such funds been included, they would likely have pushed the Nagorno Karabakh aid total to more than $70 million.

In actual practice, based on figures provided by the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia to the Congressional Research Service, the amount allocated by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations to Nagorno Karabakh between FY1998 and FY2010 was $35.77 million, more than 41%, or fully $25.23 million less than the intent expressed by Congress through legislation and legislative reports. (Source of actual allocations: Congressional Research Service, “Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests: Table 2. U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Nagorno Karabakh,” June 30, 2010.)

The Administration’s shortfall in spending on Nagorno Karabakh was acknowledged by Matthew Bryza, President Obama’s nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, during his July 22, 2010 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During this hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) noted that the U.S. Congress has consistently appropriated aid to Nagorno Karabakh, including $8 million in each of the past two fiscal years. She added that: “According to the Congressional Research Service, only about $2 million was spent in Nagorno Karabakh each year,” then asked: “Do you think that is accurate? And why wasn’t the full amount spent?” Bryza responded, stating: “Based on my knowledge of assistance programs, I believe it is accurate that around $2 million of the $8 million appropriated was spent.” Video of the full exchange on this matter is available on the on the ANCA website:
http://www.anca.org/press_releases/press_releases.php?prid=1913

Approximately $12 million of the $25 million shortfall in aid to Nagorno Karabakh is the result of under-spending by the Obama Administration during its first two years in office.

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