WASHINGTON, (Reuters, RFE/RL) - President George W. Bush cleared the way on Friday for the United States to provide military assistance to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, rewarding the governments for their cooperation in the war against terrorism.
"I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and services to the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace," Bush said in a memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Congress voted in December to suspend a ban on U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan, a potential new source of oil. Pro-Armenian lawmakers had voiced concern that lifting the ban could lead to renewed aggression by Azerbaijan against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. The congressional compromise provided $4.3 million in military aid to Armenia.
Officials in Yerevan have said that money will mainly be spent on the training of Armenian military personnel and the modernization of the Armenian army’s communication facilities. Agreement on its use was reached during Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s visit to the U.S. last month.
A senior Pentagon official announced on March 28 that the Bush administration will give Azerbaijan roughly as much military assistance as it has pledged to Armenia. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mira Ricardel said the aid will be used for peacekeeping, improving the security of Azerbaijan's coastal borders and bringing its air traffic control systems up to NATO standards.
The U.S. formally lifted the next day a nine-year-old ban on sales of arms to Armenia and Azerbaijan, in a further sign of its growing involvement in the South Caucasus. The two Caucasian arch-rivals were thus allowed to purchase U.S. defense equipment, including munitions, and receive American military training.
Both countries offered Washington use of their airspace for the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, and administration officials said closer contact with the United States will allow them to modernize their armies and nurture stability by speeding up market reforms.
Likewise, U.S. officials credited Tajikistan for cooperating since September with the war on terrorism.