Members of Congress question administration about diversion of funds; State Department renews call for repeal of Section 907.
WASHINGTON–In testimony Thursday before the House International Relations Committee–US State Department and US Agency for International Development officials announced that release of direct US aid to Nagorno-Karabakh was impending.
The officials–however–also announced a portion of the $15 million aid package for the so-called "victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" will be diverted to Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
During the three hour hearing–Administration officials also restated their opposition to the ban on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan–known as Section 907–and discussed Caspian oil and pipeline related issues.
"We welcome these first indications that the assistance appropriated last year by Congress may yet reach the people of Karabakh," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "At the same time–we remain deeply troubled by the continuing efforts of the State Department–which for years prevented US aid from reaching Karabakh–to further delay or divert Congressionally approved direct assistance. This opposition to the clear intent of Congress will prove counter-productive both in terms of the peace process and broader US regional interests. Confidence in the United States as an impartial mediator requires that we distribute humanitarian aid based on need–not the dictates of the government in Baku or any foreign capital."
The hearing–entitled The US Role in the Caucasus and Central Asia–included testimony from Secretary of Energy Frederico Pena; Ambassador at Large for the New Independent States Steve Sestanovich; Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State Richard Morningstar–and; USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Europe and the NIS Don Pressley.
In addition to Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY)–Committee members in attendance included Ranking Democrat Lee Hamilton (Ind.)–and Representatives Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.)–Peter King (R-NY)–Steve Chabot (D-Ohio)–Chris Smith (R-NJ)–Tom Campbell (R-Calif.)–Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)–Bill Luther (D-Minn.)–Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also participated in the hearing.
Under questioning from the panel–both Morningstar and Pressley described the US assistance package for Nagorno Karabakh which–despite being approved by Congress last year–has yet to be implemented. Pressley stated that–"USAID has committed funds to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Save the Children Federation to immediately begin humanitarian assistance in health care–shelter rehabilitation–and income generation; $3.3 million has already been allocated for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; we have notified our intention to obligate $15 million."
Morningstar added that health care funding would be used for children’s vaccination programs. He said that income generation assistance would be used to help fund small micro-business loans in order to boost the economy in the region.
In response to questions by Rep. Sherman about the specific targets for the assistance–Amb. Morningstar explained that–"The majority of that money will go directly to Nagorno-Karabakh. I want to make clear on the record that the language of the statute talks about the ‘victims of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict’ and we recognize that a very major portion of that $15 million or more should go to Nagorno-Karabakh. But what we did is we sent out an assessment team to look at the needs in Karabakh and the areas immediately surrounding it and we came up with this program."
Congressman Pallone expressed concern that none of the money allocated by Congress has yet reached Karabakh–and asked for a specific timeline for the implementation of the program. Pressley responded by saying that–"We have turned over to the organization that is going to be handling this–to the Save the Children Federation . . . so that they can begin work and my understanding is that they will begin immediately within the next two weeks to start operations."
Morningstar noted that $300,000 has already gone to the region to begin a vaccination program both inside and outside of Karabakh.YEREVAN (Armenpress)–President Robert