Sen. Kirk Secures Additional Assurances from Export-Import Bank; Rep. Sherman Questions State Department regarding Surveillance Capabilities
WASHINGTON—Legislators, citing Azerbaijan’s threats and acts of aggression against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, continue to press for greater scrutiny of a recent decision by the Export-Import Bank to finance a controversial satellite purchase by the oil-rich government of Ilham Aliyev, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We want to thank Senator Kirk and Congressman Sherman for seeking to ensure that there are safeguards in place against Azerbaijan using the new capabilities provided by this U.S.-financed satellite to act on their threat to shoot down Armenian civilian airliners or to re-launch their war against Nagorno Karabakh,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “With every new revelation, we grow more convinced that this decision will undermine American interests in promoting peace in the Caucasus.”
During a May 12th House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Export Controls, Arms Sales, and Reform,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) urged Under-Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher to look “carefully at this license to see if this particular satellite gives Azerbaijan the ability to do surveillance or jamming” and went on to ask, for the record, “will you reject this license if the satellite in question gives the Azeri government the capacity to jam Armenian communications or survey Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh.” Under-Secretary Tauscher is expected to respond in writing to this question.
Last week, Ex-Im Bank responded in writing to questions posed by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), as to whether the Azerspace satellite could be potentially utilized for military purposes or retrofitted with military capabilities. In its response, Ex-Im Bank asserted that this unit “is not equipped with military grade technology and does not possess any imaging or intelligence gathering capabilities.” They went on to note that retrofitting at a later date would be “more complex and could represent a higher cost than the initial delivery of the satellite.”
However, EurasiaNet’s Joshua Kucera reported last week that experts in this field believe that “the line between commercial and military satellite communications is often blurry, and militaries can use commercial communications satellites, albeit not as effectively as they would satellites designed specifically for military applications.” According to Brian Weeden, a former US Air Force officer working on space issues, now a technical adviser at the Secure World Foundation, a space policy advocacy group, “There is no precise definition of a military communications satellite from a capability standpoint.”
According to Kucera, an Air Force officer who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity explained that a country that has its own satellite, even a commercial one, could provide advantage to its military. “You’re guaranteed access, you’re guaranteed communications,” the officer told Kucera.
On April 27, the U.S. Export-Import Bank voted to approve the controversial deal to finance Azerbaijan’s purchase of an advanced satellite just weeks after Azerbaijan threatened to shoot down a civilian airliner. The decision came despite serious Congressional reservations and strong opposition by the Armenian American community to U.S. actions that will strengthen Azerbaijan’s military capabilities at a time of increasing threats and acts of aggression by Baku against both Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
Last week, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), in response to his inquiries on the issue, received a detailed, two-page letter, from Ex-Im Bank’s Chairman and President, Fred P. Hochberg, stating that, “[T]hough Ex-Im Bank has established that the satellite lacks a military capacity, the Bank has implemented additional measures to ensure that the satellite is not utilized for any military related purpose.”
Over the past three months, the ANCA has conveyed the Armenian American community’s serious legal, technical and political opposition to this transaction in a series of letters and meetings with senior officials of the Export-Import Bank and the State Department. The firm selling this satellite, known as Azerspace/Africasat-1A, is Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Virginia. It is being purchased by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan in Baku, Azerbaijan. The application for Ex-Im financing was made by BNP-Parabis of New York City, and the loan is being guaranteed by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Finance.