The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to keep annual U.S. assistance to Armenia virtually unchanged next year, steering clear of a sharp aid cut which it unsuccessfully sought last year.
The administration’s draft budget for the fiscal year 2011 released on Monday calls for $40 million in economic assistance to the country, or almost as much as Congress appropriated for this year. The figure represents a 33 percent increase over the aid level that was proposed by the White House a year ago and subsequently raised by U.S. legislators after heavy lobbying by Armenian-American advocacy groups.
A 2010 foreign appropriations bill agreed by the two houses of Congress in December set aside $41 million for Armenia. It also obligated the Obama administration to maintain parity in U.S. military funding for Armenia and its arch-foe Azerbaijan.
In essence, the White House will not be seeking to tilt the military aid balance in Baku’s favor this time around. Under its proposed budget, the Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries would each receive $3.5 million in direct U.S. funding. Still, the administration would like to spend twice as much ($900,000) on separate military training programs for Azerbaijan than Armenia.
More importantly, as was the case in 2009, the White House proposed no direct U.S. assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh strongly condemned by Azerbaijan. The 2010 spending bill commits it to financing $8 million worth of development projects in the Armenian-controlled territory.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the 2011 draft budget as a “significant improvement” over the previous aid allocations requested by the U.S. administration. “We welcome the decision by the Obama Administration to ask for $10 million more in economic aid to Armenia this year than he did last year, and also his proposal to maintain parity in a key area of military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan,” said Aram Hamparian, the ANCA executive director.
The Armenian Assembly of Armenia, the other major Armenian lobby group in Washington, seemed less satisfied. “Given the ongoing blockades imposed upon Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan, coupled with Armenia's constructive and bold actions to normalize relations with Turkey without preconditions … the Assembly renews its request for not less than $70 million for Armenia,” its executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said in a separate statement.
The Assembly also criticized the administration for again opposing continued U.S. aid to Karabakh. Bianka Dodov, an Assembly official in charge of congressional relations, said the group will lobby pro-Armenian lawmakers in the months ahead to “ensure robust assistance to Armenia and Karabakh”.
Hamparian said the ANCA will likewise be “working with all our Congressional friends in building on these numbers and securing the adoption of increased aid levels.”
U.S. financial support for Armenia since its independence has exceeded $1.6 billion. Also, the U.S. government approved in 2006 $236.5 million in additional aid to the country under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. Washington scrapped a $67 million segment of the five-year rural development package in June last year, citing the Armenian government’s poor human rights record.