The U.S. Congress is poised to significantly scale back a sharp reduction in annual U.S. government assistance to Armenia sought by the administration of President Barack Obama.
A foreign appropriations bill worked out by a “conference committee” of the House of Representatives and the Senate late Wednesday calls for $41 million in economic aid to the country in the fiscal year 2010.
The approved allocation, which will almost certainly be endorsed by both chambers, represents a nearly 15 percent drop from this year’s aid level. Still, it is $11 million over the sum requested by the Obama administration in May. Administration officials attributed the proposed cut to an overall reduction in America’s global foreign assistance.
The administration request was approved by the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee but rejected by the relevant House panel. The latter proposed to keep the 2010 funding for Armenia unchanged at $48 million after heavy lobbying by Armenian-American groups.
The allocation approved by the conference committee is the result of a compromise between the two congressional panels. The committee bill also obligates the Obama administration to maintain parity in separate U.S. military financing to Armenia and Azerbaijan (set at $3 million) and provide $8 million in direct development assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The two main Armenian lobby groups in Washington largely welcomed the compromise solution. The Armenian Assembly of America praised “the continued support of its friends in the House and Senate in helping secure a positive outcome.” “Given Turkey’s ongoing blockade of Armenia, which is reinforced by Azerbaijan, U.S. assistance remains critically important,” its executive director Bryan Ardouny, said in a statement.
“While we remain troubled by the overall decrease in support for Armenia, which is
now down to nearly half of what was appropriated just three years ago, we are pleased that military parity in Foreign Military Financing to Armenia and Azerbaijan has been maintained, and that the Committee's traditional description of aid to Nagorno-Karabakh as 'humanitarian' has been removed,” read a separate statement by Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America.
The two influential groups were instrumental in making Armenia a leading per-capita recipient of U.S. aid in the 1990s. Its annual volumes have steadily decreased since then.
U.S. financial support for Armenia since its independence has totaled over $1.6 billion. Also, the U.S. government approved in 2006 $236.5 million in additional aid to the country under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. Washington scrapped a $67 million segment of the five-year rural development package in June, citing the Armenian government’s poor human rights and democracy record.