WASHINGTON, DC – Speaking today during the final legislative step in the U.S. House’s adoption of the fiscal year 2002 foreign aid bill, Armenian Caucus Co-Chairmen Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) were joined by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in voicing concerns about the open-ended nature of the authority being granted by Congress to allow the President to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The Senate is expected to act on this measure tomorrow, setting the stage for a presidential signature on the bill and his waiver of Section 907 as early as the end of this week.
Congresswoman Lowey, the Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that, “We all know that conferencing a bill is a process of compromise and I would like to discuss a provision with which I continue to disagree. Specifically, I am concerned about the inclusion in this bill of an open-ended waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. I had hoped that we would be able to amend the Senate language to sunset the waiver and ensure the stability of Nagorno Karabagh. We make clear in the statement of managers that we will revisit this issue next year if necessary.”
Rep. Knollenberg stressed that he was “pleased that this bill provides $94.3 million in assistance to Armenia. This includes, for the first time, some $4.3 million in military assistance. And providing military assistance marks a new stage in the U.S.-Armenia relationship. The conference agreement also includes a Senate provision providing a limited conditional waiver of Section 907. During the conference, new language was added to protect Armenians in the Caucasus region and explicitly expressed the intention of Congress to review this provision each year. I want to make it abundantly clear that this is a limited and conditional waiver which we will revisit next year in the fiscal year 2003 bill. Renewal of any waiver to Section 907 will be closely scrutinized and Azerbaijan’s actions will be closely monitored.”
Congressman Pallone reminded his colleagues of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s letter stating that “changes to [Section 907] were needed to enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist organizations and elements operating within its borders.” Rep. Pallone stressed that he “remains concerned about the credible reports regarding the presence of Al-Qaeda cells operating within Azerbiajan that pose a direct threat to the U.S. and whose members participated in Azerbaijan’s military campaign against the Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh. Mr. Speaker, these cells not only present a threat to Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh but also to all of us.”
Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the Chairman of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, stated that, “The Committee continues its support for a peaceful settlement in the Southern Caucasus region by providing $90 million for both Armenia and Georgia. While the Committee doesn’t set aside a specific amount for Azerbaijan, it waives a statutory restriction on assistance to its government in the fight against global terrorism.”
Over the past several months, the ANCA, along with a broad-based coalition of Armenian American groups, defended Section 907 and sought, throughout the legislative process, to secure as many safeguards as possible to ensure that Azerbaijan would not be able to use increased military capabilities acquired from the United States in aggression against either Armenia or Nagorno Karabagh. Also participating in this community-wide effort were the Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics; Armenian Evangelical Union of North America; Armenian Missionary Association of America; Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern Region ;Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Western Region; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern Region; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Western Region; Armenian American Democratic Leadership Council; Armenian Bar Association; Armenian General Benevolent Union; Armenian National Committee of America; Armenian Relief Society; Armenian Youth Federation of America; Hamazkayn Armenian Cultural and Educational Association; Homenetmen Armenian General Athletic Union; Knights of Vartan; National Organization of Republican Armenians.
The House, by a vote of 357 to 66 approved the agreement reached in the House-Senate conference committee charged with reconciling the two versions of this legislation. This compromise allows the President to indefinitely suspend Section 907 without having to certify, as the law required, that Azerbaijan has lifted its blockades against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. It also includes non-binding report language accompanying the foreign aid bill that specifically stipulates that U.S. assistance provided under the Presidential waiver cannot be used against Armenian communities in the Caucasus. In a setback to the State Department, which has sought a free hand in extending the Presidential waiver indefinitely, the panel affirmed that Congress would review and reserve the right to amend the waiver language in the fiscal year 2003 foreign aid process.
The conference language also approved a hard earmark for Armenia that will guarantee a minimum of $90 million in assistance to Armenia, an additional $4 million in foreign military financing and $300,000 in military training. Armenia was alone among the states of the former Soviet Union in receiving its appropriation as a guaranteed “hard earmark.” The $90 million appropriation for Armenia, agreed to by the Senate, represents an $8.5 million increase from the House version of the bill.