By Atom Markarian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian expressed hope Friday that the United States will maintain parity in its post-September 11 military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan which Washington would break in Baku’s favor in its proposed budget for next year.
The administration of President George W. Bush wants to spend $8 million on military aid to Azerbaijan in the fiscal year 2005, four times more than to Armenia. The proposal has prompted protests from the leading Armenian-American lobbying groups.
Sarkisian said he shares their concerns and hopes the parity will be restore during congressional debates. “Of course, it is a cause for concern, even though I don’t believe that…Azerbaijan’s armed forces would get four times stronger than the Armenian armed forces,” he said. “We should look at the structure of that aid and only then draw conclusions.”
The U.S. military assistance to the two Caucasus rivals began in 2001 as part of Washington’s global fight against terror. It was made possible by the suspension of serious restrictions on U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan that had been imposed by Congress at the behest of the influential Armenian-American community in 1992.
"We are extremely troubled to see the Administration breaking its own agreement to maintain parity in foreign military aid levels to Armenia and Azerbaijan," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenia National Committee of America, said in a statement. "This agreement was reached two years ago between the White House and Congressional leaders, and shared with
representatives of the Armenian American community during a February 21, 2002 meeting with National Security Council official Dan Fried and Presidential advisor Karl Rove.”
“The principle of security parity is vital when two armies face one another over a fragile line of contact without intervening peace-keeping forces," said Ross Vartian of the Armenian Assembly of America.
The Armenian military has already received $4.3 million worth of U.S. assistance and will get an additional $3.4 this year. The money will be mainly used for upgrading its communication facilities.