Speier: “USAID Funding is Inadequate to Complete De-Mining Project”; Chu: Artsakh Visit “Doubled, Tripled, Quadrupled my Resolve”
STEPANAKERT– Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier’s (D-CA) and leading Artsakh security advocate Rep. Judy Chu’s (D-CA) commitment to expanded Artsakh de-mining soared this week after the U.S. House members visited The HALO Trust to review the decades of life-saving progress made possible by ongoing U.S. assistance, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“HALO’s landmine clearance program in Nagorno Karabakh is a lifeline for many communities,” Rep. Chu told HALO’s Artsakh Representatives after she and Rep. Speier had an in-depth tour, which included a detailed overview of their meticulous demining process. “Over 80 percent of the region’s population has benefited from cleared landmines. I will continue to engage USAID to ensure the continuation of HALO’s life-saving program.”
Congresswoman Speier told Armenia’s H1 Television, “one of my biggest takeaways today is that our USAID funding is inadequate to complete this project. So, we are going to redouble our efforts and tomorrow, when we meet with the [U.S.] Ambassador in Armenia, we are going to make the case that more money is needed.”
Similar sentiments were expressed last week by Congressional Armenian Caucus founding Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) during his visit to Stepanakert. “The State Department believes, mistakenly, that the [HALO Trust de-mining] program is no longer needed, in other words, that most of the de-mining has already occurred,” Rep. Pallone told reporters following his visit. “What we learned today from The HALO Trust people is that’s not the case. There is still more work to be done. So, we are going to go back to the U.S. and stress to the State Department, when we meet with them, that there’s still more work to do.”
Chu and Speier arrived in Stepanakert for their first visit to the Republic of Artsakh, sending a powerful message to Azerbaijan’s Aliyev regime that threats to “blacklist” U.S. legislators will not deter them from traveling to Artsakh and engaging in democratic dialogue with its citizens, elected officials, and civic leaders.
The two U.S. lawmakers took part in a series of high-level meetings with Artsakh government officials, in addition to their field visits. They were joined in Artsakh by ANCA Western Region Board Member Raffi Sarkissian and ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan.
Representatives Chu, Speier and Pallone visited Artsakh against the backdrop of standard State Department warnings issued to American travelers, and over the strident objections of the Azerbaijani government – which has placed them on a “blacklist” preventing future travel to Azerbaijan.
All three U.S. Representatives voiced their strong support for increased Artsakh aid, particularly in light of the Administration’s recent controversial bid to shut down U.S. funding for The HALO Trust. Each legislator recently joined with over 100 of their House and Senate colleagues in formally protesting USAID’s proposed cuts. In June, the U.S. House adopted an amendment to the FY20 foreign aid bill, spearheaded by Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA) and supported by Representatives Pallone, Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), calling for continued U.S. assistance for de-mining and rehabilitation services in Artsakh. The ANCA is currently working with Senate leaders to include similar language in their version of the bill, which is set to reach the Senate floor in the next few weeks.