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Armenia-Azerbaijan Military Disparity

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Location: Washington, DC


Armenia-Azerbaijan Military Disparity -- (House of Representatives - May 19, 2004)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to address recent reports that I believe signal a conflict in Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's interest in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

I am particularly troubled by reports from the BBC last week that President Aliyev said that, while he would continue to try to resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict by peaceful means, the Azeri army is able at any moment to free what he called "our territory." The article continues that President Aliyev stated, "We have every right to do that, to restore our territorial integrity."

Such statements, Mr. Speaker, are unsettling and send a message to Armenia as well as to all those involved in working towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict that Azerbaijan is prepared to undertake a military approach to addressing the conflict should recommendations by the Minsk Group not agree with Azerbaijan's position. In fact, such statements, I believe, Mr. Speaker, send the wrong message to the Minsk Group and undermine ongoing efforts regarding stabilization of the South Caucasus region.

Ten years after a mutually signed cease-fire in the region and 3 years after President Kocharian and former President Aliyev came together at Key West, current Azeri President Aliyev has warned that if no concrete issues remain on the agenda regarding a peaceful resolution to Nagorno-Karabagh, then it is "not right to continue and imitate negotiations." President Aliyev's actions and statements do not signal a willingness to negotiate and, in fact, I think they illustrate the opposite. If there is any chance that the parties can move in the direction of a peaceful resolution, President Aliyev must show that he is willing to consider options developed by the Minsk Group without threatening military actions.

In this regard, I would like to highlight from the BBC article that Mr. Aliyev added that the Azeri government's expenditure on Azerbaijan's military was increasing each year and "it will keep increasing in the future." I am discouraged by this, Mr. Speaker, and I would like to address this issue in light of the U.S.'s role in providing military assistance in the region.

I strongly believe we must do everything in our power here in Congress to signal that we will not support the use of military force to address this conflict. Specifically, I call upon Congress and congressional appropriators to restore the military aid parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Earlier this year, President Bush's budget proposed including unequal military aid spending to Armenia and Azerbaijan. This request was contrary to a policy agreement between the Congress and the administration that there would be military parity between the two countries. While the administration believes that the unequal funding will not destroy the balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I point to President Aliyev's recent statements and question the Bush administration's recent assurances to Congress before the other Chamber's Foreign Relations Committee.

I would like to point out that waiver language included in section 907 of the Freedom Support Act specifically states that any assistance to Azerbaijan should not be used to undermine or hamper the Karabakh peace process or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia or the Armenian communities in the South Caucasus. President Aliyev's comments regarding current and future increases in Azerbaijan's military funding do not put me at ease that funding from the U.S. either directly or indirectly will not be used to unleash a military campaign against the people of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Amid rising tension and animosity in the region, it is more important today than ever for the United States to be sure that no signal is sent suggesting that one side is being provided a military advantage over the other. Our strength in fostering a diplomatic and peaceful solution is our balanced approach to and for each nation of the South Caucasus. At this time the U.S. should not be providing resources to Azerbaijan that can in any measure be turned into military efforts against Armenia to reclaim Nagorno-Karabagh.

Parity in this regard will help to restore a sense of stability in the region and hopefully add to the U.S.'s evenhandedness in its presence and support for the establishment of a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

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