U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, lauded the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which was approved by the House last night, for its commitment to Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The New Jersey congressman issued the following statement.
"I would like to commend Chairman Lowey and Ranking Member Wolf for their hard work and leadership on the State and Foreign Operation Appropriations bill.
"As the co-chair of the Armenian Caucus, I strongly believe that U.S investment is essential to Armenia. Sadly, the people of Armenia are still faced with the devastating impact of Turkey and Azerbaijan's illegal dual blockade, costing Armenians an estimated $720 million annually. Despite these obstacles, Armenia continues to successfully implement economic and democratic reforms. As a result of these reforms, supported by U.S. economic development programs, Armenia's economy has grown by more than 10 percent in each of the past 6 years.
PALLONE LAUDS HOUSE FOREIGN OPERATIONS BILL FOR ITS COMMITMENT TO ARMENIA & MILITARY PARITY
"However, as long as Armenia suffers from blockades on its east and west borders, continued and robust U.S. assistance to Armenia will be needed to help minimize their impact. Our assistance has provided an important positive effect and will continue to do so when provided at appropriate levels.
"Unfortunately, the Administration's budget called for drastic cuts in economic assistance to Armenia, providing only $35 million, a reduction of over 50 percent from FY 2007 levels. Again, I was pleased to see the Subcommittee reject the President's recommendations and provide $68 million in U.S. economic aid for Armenia. Developmental assistance and investment is essential to Armenia's democratic stability and economic reform -- goals aligned with U.S. foreign policy in the South Caucasus region.
"I hope to work with Chairwoman Lowey and Ranking Member Wolf over the coming months to explore the possibility of increasing this aid to previous levels of $75 million.
Unfortunately, the President's FY 2008 budget request called for 20 percent more military aid to Azerbaijan than to Armenia. That request was a clear breach of an agreement struck between the White House and Congress in 2001 to maintain parity in U.S. military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
"Given the fact that relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to be tenuous, it is imperative that the U.S. maintain a balanced approach. I am happy to see that the Committee maintained that parity agreement despite the Administration's request and I want to personally thank them for recognizing the importance of military parity to the South Caucuses region.
"I am also grateful that the Subcommittee has allocated $6 million for Nagorno-Karabakh in humanitarian assistance, an increase over previous levels. U.S. funding has been tremendously helpful in alleviating humanitarian crises in Nagorno-Karabakh. That being said, I respectfully request that in conference Chairwoman Lowey consider a shift in aid to Nagorno-Karabakh from humanitarian to developmental programs.
"I am also very pleased the Subcommittee did not weaken Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan. Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act remains a fundamental element of U.S. policy toward the south Caucasus. Because Azerbaijan continues its blockade of Armenia, Section 907 is essential."