By Susan Cornwell, Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed doubt on Wednesday that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh can be solved soon, saying there are problems on both sides.
Rice spoke at a Capitol Hill hearing after two lawmakers expressed concern about the possibility of another war in the Caucasus region and asked why the Bush administration was seeking more military aid for Azerbaijan than Armenia.
Sixteen soldiers from both sides died in clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh this month, one of the worst breaches of the 1994 cease-fire there. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza visited the region afterwards and expressed concerns to both Armenian and Azeri officials that the clashes not recur.
"In the immediate future I don't know that Nagorno-Karabakh can get solved," Rice said at the House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the State Department's budget.
"We have been close several times," Rice said. "And so we'll continue to try to work that. But I just have to emphasize, we have problems on both sides right now, and we're trying to make sure that both sides act responsibly."
Rice said a state of emergency in Armenia, imposed recently after rioting against the results of a presidential election, had made it necessary to suspend some U.S. programs there.
But Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, complained that the Bush administration had proposed several times as much U.S. aid in one category of military assistance to Azerbaijan as Armenia in the coming year, which he said broke a tradition of parity in assistance for the two countries. "The Azeri government, in particular, President Aliev, have been ratcheting up anti-Armenian rhetoric over the past few months in Nagorno-Karabakh," said Schiff, who has a large number of Armenian-Americans in his district.
Michigan Republican Joe Knollenberg said he would favor discontinuing military aid to Azerbaijan. "I strongly believe that, instead of using this funding to help in the war in terror, they're gearing up for, as they say, a regional war."
"We are very concerned about the heating-up rhetoric," Rice told the lawmakers. "But I think the way to do it, the way to deal with this, is to try to maintain open channels to both sides and to try to bring them to a solution."
For fiscal 2009, which starts in October, the State Department has requested $300,000 for Armenia and $900,000 for Azerbaijan in International Military Education and Training funds, which offer U.S. military education and training that can facilitate contributions to peacekeeping operations. The Bush administration has also requested $3 million for Armenia and the same for Azerbaijan in Foreign Military Financing, U.S. funds that support foreign militaries, including training and equipment.