With a strong focus on the new opportunities for the growth of U.S.-Armenia relations in the wake of last year’s Velvet Revolution, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) each offered testimony to the U.S. House foreign aid panel in support of expanded assistance to both Armenia and Artsakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We strongly support the foreign aid priorities advanced by Congressmen Schiff and Pallone and thank them both their leadership in working with key appropriators in support of a forward-leaning aid package for Artsakh and Armenia,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“We look forward to continuing to engage with our friends across Capitol Hill throughout the appropriations process to support each of these priorities, and – more broadly – to leveraging U.S. aid policy in driving a strategic upgrade in U.S.-Armenia political, economic, and military relations,” he added.
Congressman Pallone, the founding Co-Chairman of the Armenian Caucus, and Rep. Schiff, a Vice-Chairman of the bipartisan Caucus, identified the following five appropriations priorities in the Fiscal Year 2020 foreign aid bill:
- Economic aid to Armenia – to promote sustainable growth
- Military aid to Armenia – to support peacekeeping programs
- “Safe haven” aid – to help Armenia settle Middle East refugees
- Artsakh aid – for de-mining and rehabilitation services
In their testimony, both Congressman Pallone and Congressman Schiff called upon the Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations to appropriate funds to support media freedom, judicial independence, anti-corruption, and civil society programs. They also encouraged the panel to zero-out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan “until its government ceases its attacks against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and agrees to the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.
Rep. Frank Pallone said "the continued instances of violence against the people of Artsakh call for specific steps to defuse tension and violence along the border, and humanitarian assistance to the people of Artsakh who simply want to live free of fear and violence, and exercise their right of self-determination.
He urged the Subcommittee to:
- Ensure that not less than $6 million in Fiscal Year 2020 aid be appropriated to Nagorno-Karabakh for de-mining efforts and other humanitarian projects.
- Suspend U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until its government ceases its attacks against Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh, and agrees to the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.
- In the interest of effective U.S. oversight of our aid programs, we request that the Department of State and USAID lift any official or unofficial restrictions on U.S. travel, communication, or contacts with Artsakh government officials or civil society stakeholders.
- Include bill language providing funding to support implementation of the Royce-Engel peace proposals, prioritizing the placement of OSCE-monitored, advanced gunfire locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks along the line of contact.
"The U.S.-Armenia relationship is founded upon a shared commitment to freedom and democratic values. Armenia provides a safe haven for refugees, participates in U.S. led peacekeeping deployments, and supports the peaceful resolution of regional disputes. Blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia confronts serious challenges to its security and its sovereignty. U.S. economic and military assistance plays a vital role in strengthening Armenia’s independence. Military aid enables Armenia’s membership in NATO’s Partnerships for Peace and supports Armenia’s participation in peacekeeping operations," the congressman noted.
"The peaceful transition of government in 2018 and successful democratic elections provide an opportunity for the United States to support meaningful long-term governance reforms as an adjunct to our commitment to Armenia’s aid-to-trade transition. Increased funding for technical assistance on governance-related priorities, including rule of law reforms, anti-corruption initiatives, support for civil society and independent journalism should be prioritized. I urge encouraging the Administration to maximize the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meetings and to strategically broaden the U.S.-Armenia Economic Task Force to include support for governance reforms. I also support movement on a modern Double Tax Treaty, Social Security Totalization Agreement, debt-for-reforestation swaps, and non-stop U.S. to Armenia commercial flights, all of which would be to the benefit of both Armenia and the United States," he added.
Rep. Pallone the Subcommittee to support Armenia by:
- Ensure not less than $30,000,000 be made available for governance and rule of law assistance to Armenia.
- Ensure not less than $20,000,000 be made available for economic assistance to Armenia.
- Support FMF aid for projects that develop Armenia’s capability to undertake peacekeeping missions.
- Increase IMET funding to expand U.S. training opportunities for Armenian officers.
- Suspend U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until its government ceases its attacks against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, ends its threat of renewed war, and agrees to the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.
Mr. Pallone added that over 25,000 individuals from Syria have sought safety in Armenia, which, despite being a small country, has received only modest levels of U.S. and international relief and resettlement assistance to accommodate this influx of refugees.
Therefore, he urged to Include language recognizing Armenia’s efforts to serve as a regional safe haven for Christians and other at-risk populations fleeing violence in the Middle East, and supporting these efforts through aid and international organizations and provide funding to help Armenia provide transition support to refugees from Syria and throughout the Middle East who have found safe haven in Armenia.
Rep. Schiff noted, in turn, that "Armenia has demonstrated its willingness to play a larger role as a regional safe haven for those fleeing persecution and death in the Middle East, but lacks the financial resources to offer the transition assistance needed by families fleeing violence."