Senate appropriators reaffirm support for Karabakh aid program

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, by a bipartisan vote of 25 to 5,  overwhelming adopted a Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) foreign aid legislative package that, once again, reaffirmed U.S. support for the longstanding U.S. assistance program for Nagorno Karabakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“The Committee recommends assistance for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict.  The Committee urges a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” read the report which accompanies the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill.  Nagorno Karabakh was one of only seven aid recipients from the entire Europe and South and Central Asia region to be specifically cited by the panel.  Others included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Serbia, and Kosovo.

The Committee remained silent on specific U.S. assistance levels to most countries, including the Caucasus countries, thereby essentially approving the broad outlines of President Obama’s proposed spending levels of $20.7 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) for Armenia, along with $1.7 in Foreign Military Finance (FMF) aid and $600,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds.  The President’s proposed budget maintained parity in appropriated U.S. military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.  The measure also effectively endorsed the President’s proposal to allocate $9.6 million in Economic Support Funds to Azerbaijan, and $38.2 million in ESF and $10 million in FMF to Georgia.

The Senate version of the foreign aid bill also included language regarding Syria, instructing the Administration that funds “may be” used for programs that seek to “establish governance in Syria that is representative, inclusive, and accountable; expand the role of women in negotiations to end the violence and in any political transition in Syria . . . further the legitimacy of the Syrian opposition through cross-border programs. . .”

The House Appropriations Committee is set to consider its version of the foreign aid bill on Tuesday, June 24th at 10am EST.  Following the approval of the two measures at the committee level, they will be considered by the full House and Senate.  Afterwards, appropriators from the houses will convene a conference to work out differences, prior to sending a reconciled version of the legislation to the President for signature.

In testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations in April of this year, ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian urged the panel to prioritize a number of provisions, including:

1) At least $5 million in U.S. developmental aid to Nagorno Karabakh, for water and de-mining projects

2) Zero-out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until it ceases its aggression, renounces violence, and commits to a purely peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.

3) At least $40 million in U.S. economic assistance to Armenia.

4) In light of the recent attacks on Kessab, a special focus on the delivery of humanitarian and resettlement aid to Armenians and other at-risk minorities in Syria, as well as targeted aid to help Armenia settle thousands fleeing from Syria.

5) At least 10% of U.S. assistance to Georgia to be earmarked for job creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of that country.

6) Language strengthening Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.

7) Ending the Exclusion of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh from the peace process:

Nahapetian, in her closing remarks, underscored the increasingly central role that trade and investment should play supplanting aid as the key driver of the U.S.-Armenia economic relationship, noting: “in light of the downward trend in U.S. economic aid to Armenia, we encourage the Subcommittee to encourage the Administration to prioritize bilateral U.S.-Armenia trade and investment promotion, including through the negotiation of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, a Double Tax Treaty, and other economic accords.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia and the ANCA have formally called for expanding economic relations through such agreements, as have U.S. businesses operating in Armenia, among them Microsoft, FedEx, NASDAQ and Marriot.”

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