By Emil Danielyan
A key subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected late Wednesday an almost 60 percent cut in regular U.S. economic assistance to Armenia which is sought by the administration of President George W. Bush.
The administration’s draft foreign assistance budget for the fiscal year 2009 submitted to Congress in February would cut funding to Armenia to $24 million from this year’s level of $58 million.
In what has been a pattern, the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee raised the proposed allocation to $52 million at the urging of leading pro-Armenian lawmakers. It also approved $8 million in separate direct aid to Nagorno-Karabakh and voted to maintain parity in U.S. military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The armed forces of the two warring nations would each continue to receive $3 million worth of aid.
Joe Knollenberg, a Michigan Republican co-chairing the congressional Armenian Caucus, demanded that U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan be cut altogether because of its continuing threats to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force. The motion was narrowly voted down by the subcommittee.
The two leading Armenian-American lobby groups in Washington commended Knollenberg for nearly succeeding in pushing the measure through the panel. "We are confident that Members will be looking at additional steps to address Azerbaijan's war mongering," Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement.
The aid allocations need to be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee before they can be considered by the full chamber. A corresponding committee of the U.S. Senate was scheduled to debate the Senate version of the foreign aid bill late Thursday.
The volume of U.S. aid to Armenia, which has totaled about $2 billion, has slowly but steadily declined since the 1990s when it averaged over $100 million per annum. U.S. officials have attributed the drop to an overall reduction of its foreign aid budgets and Armenia’s economic growth. They have also pointed to the Bush administration’s decision in 2005 to provide the country with $236 million in additional assistance under the Millennium Challenge Account program.