By Emil Danielyan
President George W. Bush has signed into law a congressional bill that will lead to a 23 percent reduction in annual U.S. economic assistance to Armenia, a leading Armenian-American advocacy group said late Thursday.
According to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), Armenia will get $58.5 million worth of U.S. economic aid in the fiscal year 2008, down from $76 million allocated for 2007.
The Bush administration had pushed for more drastic aid cut, asking Congress to allocate $35 million. The figure was revised upwards under pressure from the ANCA and another major lobbying organization, the Armenian Assembly of America.
The two groups have been instrumental in making Armenia a leading per-capita recipient of U.S. aid since the Soviet collapse. They also made sure that Armenia and its arch-foe Azerbaijan continue to receive equal amounts of U.S. funding for their militaries which were set at $3 million. The Bush administration had proposed to provide Baku with $2 million more in such assistance.
“We thank all of our friends in the Congressional appropriations process who, working against significant competing budgetary pressures – were able to deliver figures higher than the President's request, and also to maintain military aid parity,” the ANCA’s executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.
The statement said that the bill signed by Bush urges the U.S. State Department continue to provide direct assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh but does not stipulate a specific amount. The department is to be guided instead by recommendations adopted
earlier this year, one of which allocated $6 million to Karabakh.
U.S. assistance to Armenia has totaled about $2 billion since 1992, a fact stressed by the American charge d’affaires in Yerevan this week. “The United States is committed to supporting Armenia as it works to both establish a strong democracy, and build a vibrant economy, that benefit all of Armenia's people,” Joseph Pennington said in a New Year’s message to the Armenian people.
Armenia is also expected to receive $235.6 million in separate U.S. aid to be provided under Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account program in the next five years.