By Harry Tamrazian in Prague and Emil Danielyan
A leading Armenian-American lobbying group appeared on Thursday resigned to the impending lifting of US sanctions against Azerbaijan sought by the administration of President George Bush as a reward for Baku’s support to the US anti-terrorism campaign. But the Armenian Assembly of America, which helped impose those sanctions nearly ten years ago, said it will strive to make sure that their removal is temporary and conditional.
Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday urged Congress to allow Bush to waive Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act which severely restricts US assistance to Azerbaijan until it lifts its blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell said the legislation constrains the United States' ability to provide Azerbaijan military and other assistance needed for its effective support of the ongoing war against terrorism.
America’s influential Armenian lobby, which was instrumental in the passage of Section 907, has criticized the White House initiative. News agencies quoted the chairman of the Armenian Assembly’s Board of Directors, Van Krikorian, as warning Washington against “turning a blind eye to Azerbaijan's record as a base for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and other terrorists.”
But the Assembly’s executive director, Arpi Vartanian, admitted on Thursday that, with US public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of Bush’s actions since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress will almost certainly fall in line. “We have successfully fought against a repeal of Section 907, but that won’t be possible in the case of a waiver,” Vartanian told RFE/RL. “We are convinced that if President Bush asks Congress for the waiver he will get it.”
The Armenian-Americans should now concentrate on having Congress attach certain conditions and time frames to the presidential right to waive the anti-Azerbaijani clause, according to Vartanian. She said the Assembly, in particular, wants to make the waiver conditional on the Bush administration providing “equal” military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan within the framework of the anti-terrorist effort.
Legislation calling for removal of the sanctions has already been introduced in the Senate by Republican Senator Sam Brownback. It would allow Bush to lift the sanctions by simply citing US national security interests. The Senate panel on Wednesday discussed behind the closed doors the proposed lifting of the Azerbaijan sanctions. No details were reported.
The Assembly’s stance put it at odds with another influential advocacy group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The ANCA and several other Armenian-American organizations which have vowed to fight against any changes in the Section 907 legislation. But Vartanian said their hopes are not realistic.