By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Armenian-American advocacy groups criticized President George W. Bush on Tuesday for his plans to considerably cut US assistance to Armenia and said they will lobby Congress to keep its amount unchanged next year.
The Bush administration’s budget for the fiscal year 2003 sent to Congress on Monday would reduce the assistance to $70 million from this year’s $94 million.
The two main Armenian groups active on Capitol Hill said they strongly oppose the proposed cuts. They said they have succeeded in having US legislators increase the White House’s aid requests in the past and will strive to do the same this year.
“The Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades continue to harm the Armenian economy and we are therefore concerned about the $20 million cut,” said Elizabeth Chouljian, a spokeswoman for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We will continue to work with Congress and try to increase the figure just as we have done in the past,” she told RFE/RL.
The other lobbying group, the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with Bush’s budget request because it “sends the wrong message and could destabilize the region.”
“This budget request is very similar to last year's and it is still early in the budget process. Last year, the Administration requested $70 million in aid to Armenia, but Congress at the end of the process, approved 'not less than' $90 million,” said a senior Assembly official, Bryan Ardouny. “A similar process will take place again this year and the Assembly will work with its friends in Congress to ensure the appropriate level of aid for Armenia.”
The administration's proposed aid to Armenia reflects an overall cut of US assistance to former Soviet republics, with a requested amount of $755 million, down from last year's $784 million. Bush, who has recently suspended long-standing US sanctions against Azerbaijan, wants that $46 million of that be allocated to Baku.
The two Armenian-American organizations have been instrumental in the substantial economic aid provided by Washington to Armenia for the past ten years. Its total amount will reach $1.5 billion this year.