*Radanovich cautions against rewarding states that create obstacles to regional cooperation
WASHINGTON–The House International Relations Committee Thursday approved "Silk Road" legislation which would–if enacted into law–define US foreign policy toward Central Asia and the Caucasus–but would not–as its backers had initially hoped–either weaken or repeal the law–commonly known as Section 907–which restricts US aid to the Azeri government until it lifts its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
During the Committee’s discussion of the legislation–formally known as the Silk Road Strategy Act (H.R. 1152)–its author–Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.)–explained that the absence of any language seeking to weaken or eliminate Section 907 was not a coincidence.
"I would tell my colleagues that this legislation very intentionally does not address the difficult questions of Section 907 of the Foreign Assistance Act–the prohibition of assistance to Azerbaijan," said Rep. Bereuter. "That is a conscious decision by this Member–with the support of Chairman Gilman. Frankly–this is too divisive an issue – so it is to be avoided to make way for progress." Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman agreed–stating that–". . . the legislation is simply too important to allow it to be sidetracked because of the Section 907 controversy."
Rep. George Radanovich–who led the successful defense of Section 907 during a vote on the House floor last September–cautioned his colleagues about the dangers of allowing the Silk Road bill–at any stage of the legislative process–to become a vehicle for rewarding undemocratic countries or encouraging aggression and blockades. The Fresno Congressman’stressed the importance "for this legislation and–more broadly–for all of our diplomatic efforts in the region–to encourage progress where we see it–but also to ensure that we do not reward governmen’s that create obstacles to regional cooperation; reject negotiated settlemen’s in favor of border closures and aggression; and stand in the way of genuine political and economic reform."
"We are pleased to see that both the leadership of the Committee and a strong bipartisan majority of its members chose to maintain the current law governing US assistance to Azerbaijan" said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "Section 907 remains the Administration’s best tool to press Azerbaijan to lift its blockades and to encourage the Azeri government to negotiate in good faith with the elected government of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh toward a durable and equitable peace."
Last month–the Senate approved similar legislation as an amendment to the FY2000 foreign aid bill–rejecting–in the process–an effort by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to eliminate Section 907. This defense of Section 907 – against Sen. Brownback’s attack – was spearheaded by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)–Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.)–and Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.).