WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) today welcomed the vote by a powerful Senate panel to block U.S. taxpayer funding for an unnecessary and costly proposed railroad between Turkey and Georgia that would, if built, circumvent Armenia and, in the process, undermine the economic viability of the existing Caucasus railroad route through Armenia.
With a unanimous voice vote earlier today, the Senate Banking Committee adopted the amendment spearheaded by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and later adopted as proposed by Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Democrat Paul Sarbanes (D-MD). According to the measure, the Export-Import Bank “shall not guarantee, insure or extend (or participate in the extension of) credit in connection with the export of any good or service relating to the development or promotion of any railway connection or railway-related connection that does not traverse or connect with Armenia, and does traverse or connect Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, Georgia and Kars, Turkey.” The provision is now part of the Senate Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Bill, also adopted unanimously by the Committee, paving the way for full Senate consideration of the legislation.
“We would like to thank Senator Menendez, Chairman Shelby, Senator Sarbanes, and all members of the Senate Banking Committee for ensuring that U.S. taxpayer funds are not wasted in the construction of an ill-advised railway project, initiated by Turkey and Azerbaijan, solely to exclude Armenia,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“With this amendment, we are sending a simple message — that we believe that the United States should support an integrated and inclusive approach to economic and regional development in the Caucuses region,” explained Sen. Menendez. “There is already a railway which connects these countries and passes through Armenia which could be used to build a trans-Caucuses railroad. Why would we spend additional funds to build a new railroad link that goes around Armenia?”
Sen. Menendez also stressed that the proposed railway goes counter to U.S. policy in the Caucasus region. In response to Senators during her confirmation hearing, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse noted that “because the proposed railway would bypass Armenia, and thus not be beneficial to regional integration, we have no plans to support such a railway financially.”
The Menendez amendment is based on the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2006 (S. 2461), introduced by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and cosponsored by Senators Menendez, Sarbanes and Wayne Allard (R-CO). The House version (H.R.3361), introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), currently has over 85 cosponsors. Both measures stress that U.S. policy should oppose the “The exclusion of Armenia from regional economic and commercial undertakings in the South Caucasus,” noting that such actions “undermine the United States policy goal of promoting a stable and cooperative environment in the region.”
In June, a similar amendment to the House version of the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Bill was led by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), with the support of Financial Services Committee colleagues, Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA). The House adopted the measure in July. Following Senate committee passage of the measure, Rep. Crowley noted, “With this amendment, the US Congress is telling the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan that it is wrong to continue their Cold War style campaign against Armenia and hurt its economic growth. Their actions against Armenia will meet with real consequences, and we are taking note of this inexcusable behavior. By excluding Armenia in these regional projects, Turkey and Azerbaijan are putting the finishing touches on a 10-year-old economic blockade against this republic that has made great progress in implementing democratic and economic reforms.”
In the days leading up to the vote, ANCA chapters and activists in key states contacted members of the Senate Banking Committee in support of the Armenia railway provision.
The proposed new Caucasus rail line – at the urging of Turkey and Azerbaijan – would circumvent Armenia. Promoters of the project have sought, even at the planning stages, to secure U.S. financing for this undertaking, prompting Congressional friends of Armenia to preemptively block such attempts.
In October of 2005, the European Commission voiced official opposition to the proposed Caucasus railroad bypass of Armenia. A formal statement by the Commission’s Directorate General for Transport and Energy noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars, Gyumri, and Tbilisi.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank’s mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.