By Emil Danielyan
Armenia on Friday downplayed the expected suspension of US sanctions against Azerbaijan, saying that the move paves the way for only “very limited” American assistance to Baku and will not disrupt the existing balance of forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“We believe that the changes in Section 907 [of the 1992 Freedom Support Act] are balanced because they allow the United States to carry out the anti-terror campaign in a more effective way without jeopardizing regional stability and Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh’s security,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said.
“I can say for certain that Azerbaijan didn’t get what it wanted to get for many years,” he told reporters. “The aid will be soft and very limited.”
The US Senate on Wednesday allowed President George Bush to waive Section 907 on the condition that it is essential for US efforts to crush worldwide terror networks, is important for Azerbaijan’s border security and is not used for any “offensive purposes against Armenia.”
The move followed a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the lawmakers to lift the decade-long sanctions as a reward for Baku’s support of Washington’s ongoing anti-terror campaign. Section 907 imposes severe restrictions on American assistance to Azerbaijan until it lifts its blockade of Armenia and Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani government considers it unfair and counter-productive. President Heydar Aliev has reportedly objected to some of the conditions pegged to the impending waiver. Still, Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev described the Senate’s decision as a major foreign policy success. The Baku daily “Zerkalo” quoted on Friday an official from the Azerbaijani embassy in Washington as saying that Azerbaijan can now get “unlimited assistance in any sphere.”
However, Oskanian insisted that Washington will only help Azerbaijan train its security services and protect its borders against “infiltration” by radical Islamist groups seen as part of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network. This, he said, will not allow Baku to gain the upper hand in the Karabakh conflict.
Oskanian also welcomed the Senate’s decision to allocate $4.6 million in military assistance to Armenia – major concession to the influential Armenian-American community. He said the U.S. and Armenian governments will decide how the funds are to be used “through bilateral negotiations.” He ruled out any supplies of US-made military hardware and other weapons.
Armenian-American lobbying groups and diplomatic sources in Yerevan claim that the volume of the planned military funding to Azerbaijan is unlikely to be substantially higher than the sum set aside for Armenia.