The US Ambassador to Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch, sought on Tuesday to defend the Obama administration’s decision to request a 38% cut in aid to Armenia last week, arguing that the President’s request was an increase from the last Bush Administration budget request, Public Radio of Armenia reported.
“The Obama Administration’s request for Armenia for FY 2010 [of $30 million] is 25 percent above the last Bush Administration budget request,” she said, noting that Congress had doubled Bush’s initial request of $24 million for FY 2009 to $48 million. “The actual level of assistance for Armenia for FY 2010 has not yet been determined by the U.S. Congress.”
The request for a cut came despite a 9% increase in overall foreign aid spending this year and was accompanied by a request for a 20% increase in aid to Azerbaijan, and the abandonment of the longstanding Armenia-Azerbaijan military aid parity agreement in favor of Baku.
According to Yovanovitch, the US remains committed to its longstanding partnership with Armenia and the Armenian people. “Helping the people of Armenia has been, and continues to be, a high priority,” she said.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) described Obama’s cut as “disappointing” and a “sharp reversal” from his campaign pledges to support US-Armenia relations.
In January of 2008 and again only days before the November election, the President said he would “help foster Armenia’s growth and development through expanded trade and targeted aid,” adding that he will also, “strengthen the commercial, political, military, developmental, and cultural relationships between the U.S. and Armenian governments.”
A written statement by the ANCA said the figures released by the Obama Administration “represent a sharp departure from the President’s campaign commitments to maintain U.S. assistance to Armenia and to foster its growth and development through aid and trade.”
“President Obama, despite his promise to maintain U.S. assistance to Armenia and his campaign commitment to help foster Armenia’s growth and development, has called for a thirty-eight percent cut in aid to Armenia,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “His proposal to sharply reduce vitally needed assistance to Armenia, even as he is increasing overall foreign aid spending, is all the more disappointing in light of the urgent economic challenges facing Armenia.”
U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), the two co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, meanwhile, pledged to work with their congressional colleagues to increase economic assistance to Armenia and Karabakh beyond the Administration’s decreased budget proposal.
“Over the past year, President Aliyev of Azerbaijan has repeatedly made bellicose statements in regards to Nagorno Karabakh,” a joint statement from their offices said, adding that the co-chairs will work to uphold Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which prohibits military funding to Azerbaijan.
“If this is not possible, we will work with Congress to restore the long-standing tradition of providing military parity between the two countries, which was promised in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks,” the statement added.
Brushing aside these concerns, Yovanovitch told reporters that there has been no decrease in military aid to Armenia from while the increase in military assistance to Azerbaijan “is linked to U.S. priorities in peacekeeping and maritime security, particularly regarding proliferation and drug trafficking on the Caspian Sea.”
President Obama’s budget calls for $30 million in U.S. aid to Armenia, down 38% from the FY09 allocation of $48 million. Under his proposal, funding for Azerbaijan would increase 20% from $18.5 million to $22.12 million. The complete international affairs budget proposed by the White House is $53,872,901.
According to Yovanovitch, the levels of aid requested for Armenia and Azerbaijan are “carefully considered and calibrated to ensure that they do not adversely affect the military balance in the region or undermine efforts for a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
She added that the military aid will “provide appropriate assistance to each country that will enhance their interoperability and military professionalism.”
The President’s budget is set to be reviewed by the Foreign Operations Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriation Committees. Each subcommittee has the prerogative to draft their own versions of the FY 2010 foreign assistance bill.
The ANCA is urging Armenian-American activists to send a free ANCA WebFax to their U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators asking them to urge members of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittees to reverse the cut and support a $70 million economic assistance package for Armenia.
The action alert also calls on Congress to tighten restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan; increase military aid to Armenia and ensure parity with Azerbaijan; increase aid to Nagorno Karabakh for both humanitarian and developmental projects; include language urging Azerbaijan to accept confidence-building measures; and remove restrictions on interaction between U.S. and Nagorno Karabakh officials.
To send the webfax, visit: http://www.capwiz.com/anca/issues/alert/?alertid=13315831