Representatives Pallone, Speier, and Schiff Caution that Imbalance in Security Aid Undermines U.S. Influence in the Region
WASHINGTON—For the second time in less than two months, Congressional Armenian Caucus leaders have called on the U.S. Departments of State and Defense to restore military aid parity to Armenia and Azerbaijan, or risk emboldening an already aggressive Azerbaijani government to escalate its attacks against Armenia and Artsakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We join with Reps. Pallone, Schiff, and Speier in challenging the Administration’s reckless military aid tilt toward Azerbaijan’s corrupt Aliyev regime,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “In light of Azerbaijan’s relentless aggression, we call on Congress to zero-out any and all security assistance to Baku, or – at the very least – match every dollar in military aid to Azerbaijan with another to Armenia.”
In September, Congressional Armenian Caucus founding Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) expressed concerns to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper about the proposed significant increase in security assistance to Azerbaijan for Fiscal Year 2018 and 2019, totaling $102 million, compared to $7 million in military assistance to Armenia over the same period. They noted that Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, adopted in 1992, prohibits aid to Azerbaijan due to its ongoing blockade and aggression against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
“While the State Department has the authority to extend a waiver of Section 907, we do not believe the waiver the State Department noticed on April 18, 2019, is an appropriate use of this authority considering Azerbaijan’s continued efforts to destabilize the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh and given the ruling regime of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s documented culture of corruption and oppressive tactics against dissenters,” stated Representatives Pallone, Speier, and Schiff in their September 27th letter.
In response to State and Defense Department assertions that $102 million in security aid to Azerbaijan “will neither undermine efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nor be used for offensive purposes against Armenia,” Representatives Pallone, Speier and Schiff were adamant.
“Without question, the increase of security assistance to Azerbaijan creates an imbalance in the region and ignores a twenty-year precedent in U.S. foreign policy. We are concerned that rewarding Armenia’s autocratic neighbor with this windfall at such a time of historic change in Armenia sends negative signals about the importance we place on democratic values. Returning to parity in military assistance is the only way the U.S. will be able to retain its credibility as a regional power capable of bringing Azerbaijan and Armenia together.”
In their November 18th letter, the Congressional Armenian Caucus leaders go on to request that Armenia be provided with “training and equipment to build partner capacity that will help secure its borders and create military parity in funding with Azerbaijan. This funding would increase Armenia’s capacity for counterterrorism, counter-illicit drug trafficking, and weapons of mass destruction interdiction operations – especially on its southern border with Iran. We also ask for robust funding of confidence-building measures on each side of the border between Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh, and Armenia – including those that would implement the 2015 Royce-Engel Peace Proposal – to establish a clearer pathway to peace for all parties in this conflict.”