By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Two key committees of the Armenian parliament warned on Tuesday that the freezing of US sanctions against Azerbaijan could lead to renewed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh unless it strongly discourages Baku from attempting to solve the conflict by force.
The chairmen of the panels said the expected decision of the US Congress allowing President George Bush to suspend the sanctions should make it clear that military and other assistance provided to Azerbaijan can not be used for a military assault on Karabakh. A bill, approved by the US Senate on October 24, stipulates that Bush can waive Section of the 1992 Freedom Support Act so long as it facilitates Washington’s ongoing anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and is not used for “offensive purposes against Armenia.”
But according to Vahan Hovannisian, who heads the parliament committee on defense and security, the latter condition is “meaningless” because it would not keep the Azerbaijan from using the American aid to unleash a “military aggression” against the Armenian-populated enclave. In a statement made on behalf of his committee, Hovannisian said that the bill, which has still to be approved by the House of Representatives, should specifically refer to Karabakh.
A similar statement was released by Hovannes Hovannisian, chairman of the parliament committee on foreign relations. “It is extremely important for continued stability in the region that the bill directly ban the use of [US] military aid against Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
The two lawmakers claimed that their concerns are shared by the Armenian government. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, however, has downplayed the impending waiver of Section 907, saying that the move paves the way for only “very limited” American assistance to Baku and will not disrupt the existing balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict.
The Azerbaijani leadership, which considers the aid restrictions unfair and counterproductive, has welcomed the Senate’s decision. President Heydar Aliev has at the same time reportedly objected to the conditions attached to the waiver.