By Emil Danielyan
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to allocate at least $75 million in further American assistance to Armenia which represents an almost 17 percent drop from this year’s level. The administration of President George W. Bush had been pushing for a much more drastic reduction reflecting dwindling U.S. economic aid to the former Soviet republics.
The lawmakers scaled back on Monday the proposed cut for 2004 following intense lobbying from Armenian-American organizations. They also earmarked $3.4 million for separate assistance to the Armenian military and, in a move bound to anger Azerbaijan, $5 million for U.S.-funded humanitarian programs in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian Assembly of America, an influential lobbying group, commended its “friends” on Capitol Hill for securing almost $30 million more than was sought by the Bush administration for Armenia.
"Given the current fiscal restraints, the Assembly applauds the continued efforts of its congressional friends for securing this much-needed aid," its congressional relations director, Rob Mosher, said in a statement. He specifically mentioned the Republican and Democrat leaders of the House’s bipartisan Armenian Caucus, notably Congressman Joe Knollenberg of Michigan.
The statement quoted Knollenberg as saying, “This aid reaffirms our commitment to our friend and ally, and ensures that the relationship between our two countries grows stronger economically and militarily.”
Armenia, owing to its influential community in America, has been one of the world’s leading per-capita recipients of U.S. aid which has totaled more than $1.5 billion since 1992. As recently as on November, the ambassador in Yerevan, John Ordway, briefed Armenian Caucus members in Washington on the ongoing U.S.-funded assistance programs that are increasingly coordinated by a joint U.S.-Armenian “task force.”
“As long as Armenia's neighbors maintain their economic blockade of Armenia, American assistance is critical to the development of Armenia,” Knollenberg said.
The House allocation to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh is identical with a similar measure approved by the U.S. Senate on October 30. It means that Washington will continue to upgrade communication facilities of Armenia’s armed forces and train its personnel. It began providing military assistance to Yerevan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The White House will also have to continue to finance humanitarian and reconstruction programs in Karabakh that have previously prompted strong protests from Azerbaijan. Baku complained that the direct U.S. assistance undermines its internationally recognized sovereignty over the Armenian-controlled territory.
The U.S. government has already spent about $20 million on Karabakh. The money, handled by American-based private charities, was mainly used for rebuilding homes and infrastructure destroyed during the 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan.