By Emil Danielyan
A key subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to maintain parity in U.S. military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan, rejecting White House proposals favoring Baku, Armenian-American groups reported on Thursday.
Under a foreign aid bill approved by the panel the two South Caucasus arch-foes would each receive $5 million in military financing in 2005.
The initial version of the bill drafted by the administration of President George W. Bush would allocate $8 million to Azerbaijan, four times more than to Armenia. The Bush administration has argued that Azerbaijan needs greater support in the “war on terror” because it is already actively participating in the U.S.-led military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and has been refueling U.S. military aircraft on its territory.
However, the proposed disparity has prompted strong objections from the Armenian government and Armenian advocacy groups in the United States. The latter have warned that it could disrupt the balance of forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh and have lobbied Congress to put both countries on equal footing.
One of those organizations, the Armenian Assembly of America, was quick to welcome the subcommittee vote. "We commend Chairman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and his Subcommittee for maintaining equal security assistance between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Hirair Hovnanian, chairman of the Assembly’s board, said in a statement.
Hovnanian also gave credit for the measure to Representative Joe Knollenberg, a Michigan Republican who co-chairs the U.S. lower chamber’s Armenian Caucus. “Parity in military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan is absolutely critical to maintaining the careful balance
between the two countries,” Knollenberg was quoted by the statement as saying. “We cannot settle for anything less.”
Knollenberg and more than 40 other congressmen wrote to Kolbe last April, demanding an equal aid allocation.
Washington began providing military aid to Yerevan and Baku shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks as part of its global anti-terror campaign. Each of the two nations has obtained about $8 million since then. The Armenian military is using the money to modernize and upgrade its communication facilities.
The House subcommittee further approved "not less than" $65 million in regular economic assistance to Armenia for the next fiscal year. This is an increase of $3 million over the Bush administration’s 2005 budget request but a decrease of $10 million from the 2004 aid level set by Congress in December.
The panel also voted to continue America’s direct assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh which bypasses the Azerbaijani government whose sovereignty over the disputed region is formally recognized by Washington. Karabakh will get $5 million worth of further humanitarian projects if the bill becomes a law.
The proposed legislation will next be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee before being debated on the House floor.