The administration of US President George W. Bush has asked Congress to lift some of the sanctions against Azerbaijan to make it easier for the Caucasus nation to support the US antiterrorism campaign.
"Azerbaijan has joined the coalition to combat terrorism and has granted the United States overflight rights, the use of its air bases, and has provided critical intelligence cooperation," Powell wrote the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, the secretary of state complained that the Freedom Support Act of 1992 severely constrained the United States' ability to provide Azerbaijan assistance needed for its effective support of the ongoing war against terrorism. The act limits US assistance to Azerbaijan until it lifts its economic blockade of Armenia, imposed as a result of their conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Removal of these restrictions will allow the US to provide necessary military assistance that will enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist organizations and elements operating within its borders," Powell said in the letter.
Legislation calling for removal of the sanctions has already been introduced in the Senate by Republican Senator Sam Brownback. But it faces an uphill battle because of efforts by the Armenian-American lobby, which has vowed to fight it.
The Armenian Assembly of America has charged that cells of Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network are operating inside Azerbaijan. "US interests are not served by turning a blind eye to Azerbaijan's record as a base for bin Laden, al-Qaeda and other terrorists," said Van Krikorian, chair of the Armenian Assembly's
Board of Directors.
Today, President Robert Kocharian during a visit to the city of Gyumri in northern Armenia, responding to questions by reporters said that a waiver of section 907 could damage the Nagorno-Karabakh peace efforts. He reiterated his opposition to the repeal of the law by emphasizing that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is crucial to Armenia's interests. However, he also voiced understanding of the position of the U.S. administration in the current atmosphere of the anti-terror campaign.
AFP, Armen Zakarian in Gyumri