By Emil Danielyan
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation banning U.S. government assistance to controversial plans for the construction of a railway that would link Turkey with Georgia and Azerbaijan and bypass Armenia.
A resolution approved by legislators late Tuesday contains a provision which says that the U.S. Export-Import Bank can not finance or promote “any rail connections or railway-related connections that do not traverse or connect with Armenia, and do traverse or connect Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, Georgia, and Kars, Turkey."
The provision was unanimously backed by the House Financial Services Committee last month under pressure from Armenian-American lobbying groups. Its main sponsor, Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York, said the ban will “assist in promoting stability in the Caucasus region, help in ending long standing conflicts, and save U.S. taxpayers the responsibility of funding a project that goes against U.S. interests.”
Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, also welcomed the measure, saying in a statement that it “helps ensure that the U.S. will not be party to the flawed policies of Armenia's neighbors.”
The administration of President George. W. Bush did not voice objections to the bill, indicating its opposition to the railway project currently discussed by the governments of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. “The proposed railway would bypass Armenia and thus not be beneficial to regional integration,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said earlier this year.
Similar legislation is due to be debated in the U.S. Senate soon. If passed, it will effectively block participation of U.S. companies in the $400 million project that has prompted serious concern from Armenia’s government.
However, Turkish and Azerbaijani officials have already downplayed the impact of U.S. funding restrictions. “I think the three countries have enough funds to finance [the project] in one way or another,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Namik Tan, told RFE/RL on June 21.
The Armenian government argues that there already exists a railroad connecting Turkey to the South Caucasus via Armenia and that the regional countries should reactivate it instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on building a new one. The Kars-Gyumri rail link has stood idle more than a decade as part of the continuing Turkish economic blockade of Armenia. Tan said it could be reopened only after a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.