WASHINGTON–DC-Despite an overall reduction in US assistance to former Soviet republics–the House today voted 337 to 86 for a $397 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill that maintains assistance to Armenia at $90 million for the 2003 fiscal year–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA.) The Senate is scheduled to vote on this measure tomorrow.
The House vote today follows weeks of work by House and Senate Foreign Operations conferees–led by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)–to reconcile differences in the two versions of the FY03 foreign aid bills adopted last year. The House–last summer–had initially approved $84.3 million for Armenia. The Senate approved $90 million–the same level as Armenia’s actual fiscal year 2002 appropriation. Senator McConnell has been a long-time champion of US assistance to Armenia. The ANC of Arizona met with Chairman Kolbe last October–as the fiscal year 2003 foreign aid figures were taking shape.
"We want to thank all of our friends on the foreign operations conference committee for agreeing to the Senate figure of $90 million for Armenia in the fiscal year 2003 foreign aid bill. Their efforts–in the face of so many competing spending priorities–will help offset the impact of the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "We look forward to the Senate’s final adoption of this measure tomorrow and will–in the coming days and weeks–step up our outreach to appropriators in both houses to reverse the sharp cut in aid to Armenia proposed by the President in his fiscal year 2004 budget."
The Bush Administration’s fiscal year 2004 budget–released last week–called for $49.5 million in assistance to Armenia–a significant drop from last year’s Presidential request of $70 million and the actual fiscal year 2002 appropriation of $90.2 million. Comparatively–the Administration’s request for Azerbaijan saw a much smaller reduction–going from a $46 million request in fiscal year 2003 to $41.5 million for fiscal year 2004.
The fiscal year 2003 foreign aid bill was adopted as part of the Omnibus Appropriations legislation. The measure calls for $760 million in assistance to former Soviet republics–a $24 million reduction from last year. While citing a $90 million "hard earmark" in economic assistance for Armenia–the bill does not include a minimum military assistance level. However–the Conference Report recommen’s that–"the full IMET [International Military Education and Training] and FMF [foreign military funding] requests for Armenia will be provided in fiscal year 2003–and specifies that "a portion of the FMF funds should be used to enhance communications capabilities."
The Conference report also specifically encourages the "State Department to continue discussions with the sponsors of the proposed Center for the Advancement of Natural Discoveries Using Light Emission (CANDLE) project and relevant Armenian authorities on the economic viability and sustainability of the project. The managers recommend that continued funding for the project’s study be made available from assistance provided for Armenia in the Act."
In a departure from prior practice–the fiscal year 2003 foreign aid bill does not call for a hard earmark for the Republic of Georgia. The Conference report does–however–cite continued Congressional support for "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia" and notes that the "request for Georgia will be made available by the Administration." The report goes on to encourage "the Government of Georgia to take more effective measures to defend human rights and the rule of law by protecting religious minorities against mob violence."
While not specifying assistance levels to Azerbaijan–the Conference report did make special note of Congressional concern about "the murder of John Alvis–a democracy worker with the International Republican Institute–in Azerbaijan. The managers request that within 30 days of enactment of this Act–the State Department provide an update on the status of the investigation. The managers expect the State Department and relevant Azeri authorities to continue to make this investigation a top priority." Following the House adoption of the Omnibus appropriations bill–House Appropriations Subcommittee senior member and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)–stated–"American assistance to Armenia is critical to offset the challenges imposed on Armenia by its neighbors. Armenia is one of our strongest allies in the region–and has demonstrated a strong desire to build a friendly and cooperative relationship with the United States. This aid will continue to strengthen the ties between our two countries."
New Jersey Democrat Steve Rothman concurred–noting–"I was delighted to use my position on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations to secure $90 million in economic assistance to Armenia in the Fiscal Year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill–$20 million more than requested by President Bush. This assistance will provide the people of Armenia the opportunity to continue the great successes they have achieved in economic development over the past few years. While I am pleased with the outcome for the current fiscal year–I pledge to increase the woefully inadequate $49 million in economic assistance that the Bush Administration has proposed for Armenia in Fiscal Year 2004."
In the weeks leading up to the House-Senate conference on the foreign aid bill–over 20 Representatives sent a letter–initiated by Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–to Chairman Kolbe–encouraging support for a number of provisions in the bill impacting Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. Noting that "the dual blockades of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey continue to impede Armenia’s economic well-being," the co-signers urged their colleagues to ensure that "not less than $90 million" be provided for Armenia. The letter also urged $3 million in Foreign Military Financing and $750,000 in International Military Education Training (IMET) for Armenia. Rep. Adam Schiff–a co-signer of the letter–explained that he was "very pleased that US aid to Armenia for fiscal year 2003 will be $90 million. Any reduction in aid would have seriously jeopardized ongoing humanitarian–economic development and democracy-building projects currently underway in Armenia."