A key subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected on Wednesday a fresh White House proposal to end direct U.S. economic assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh, which has long been resented by Azerbaijan.
The House Foreign Aid Subcommittee said the administration of President Barack Obama should also slightly increase U.S. aid to Armenia and maintain absolute parity in separate military funding for Yerevan and Baku.
The Obama administration has been criticized by Armenian-American advocacy groups for earmarking no funds for Karabakh in its draft budget for the next fiscal year submitted to Congress in February. They have lobbied U.S. lawmakers to reverse the aid cut.
The House subcommittee voted to approve language calling on the administration to spend up to $10 million on reconstruction and development programs in Karabakh. Congress had allocated $8 million to the disputed region for this year.
The panel also approved $44 million in economic assistance to Armenia, $4 million more than the sum proposed by the administration. The figure, although 7 percent higher than the U.S. aid allocation for 2010, is well below the $70 million target set by the two main Armenian lobby groups in Washington.
The panel further made sure that the two South Caucasus foes each receive $3.5 million in direct military aid as well as $450,000 for separate military training programs in 2011. The U.S. administration proposed to spend twice as much on training the Azerbaijani military, sparking protests from the Armenian-American lobby.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the changes in the administration’s 2011 foreign appropriations bill. “While we remain troubled by the downward trend in overall aid appropriated by Congress to Armenia over the past decade, we are gratified that the panel rejected President Obama's attempt to break military aid parity, and for setting a target of $10 million in aid to Nagorno-Karabakh,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.
“We will, in the coming days, work with our friends on the Senate side to seek to zero-out aid to Azerbaijan, support Nagorno-Karabakh's return to direct participation in the peace process, break down barriers to U.S.-Nagorno-Karabakh dialogue, and increase the level of aid to Armenia,” added Hamparian.
Adam Schiff, a leading pro-Armenian House member, also praised the subcommittee decision. “I am pleased that economic assistance for Armenia has been increased by 10 percent, assistance for Nagorno-Karabakh has again been included and that parity with Azerbaijan has been maintained in security assistance,” the ANCA statement quoted the California Democrat as saying.