WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate and House continued consideration of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 foreign aid bill this week, with the Senate Appropriations Committee today adopting appropriations of $75 million for Armenia and $3 million for Nagorno Karabagh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The House adopted their version of the foreign aid bill on Tuesday.
“We want to thank Senator McConnell for his leadership in securing a $75 million earmark for his Armenia, and to thank all our friends on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for their work on each of the provisions in this bill that will contribute to the further strengthening U.S.-Armenia ties,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “We look forward to supporting Senators McConnell and Leahy as well as Representatives Kolbe, Knollenberg, Lowey, Rothman and all the other conferees who will, in the coming weeks, engage in the important work of reconciling the Senate and House versions of this legislation.”
Senate Appropriations Committee assistance levels for Armenia represent a $20 million increase over President Bush’s budget request earlier this year, and $7.5 million more than the House measure adopted earlier this week. The Senate panel also approved over $6.4 million in military and security aid to Armenia, including $5 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF), $750,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET), and $700,000 in Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, De-mining and Related (NADR) assistance.
The House and Senate versions of the foreign aid bill differ in their overall support levels for U.S. assistance to the former Soviet States. The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an overall figure of $565 million for the region, approximately $88 million more than their House Colleagues. As part of that allocation, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $70.5 million for Georgia and $38 million for Azerbaijan. The Senate Committee report called on the “State Department and USAID to more emphatically and publicly support political process programming in Russia and Azerbaijan. Freedom is ill served by excessive hand wringing over concerns with projecting political balance in programming or of offending authoritarian host governments.”
The House allocation of up to $5 million for Nagorno Karabagh is $2 million more than the amount set by the Senate panel. The Committee report accompanying the House measure, noted that, “in furtherance of a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, and in support of the measures discussed at NATO and OSCE summits, the Committee strongly supports confidence-building measures among the parties to the conflict. Such measures include strengthening compliance with the cease-fire, studying post-conflict regional development such as landmine removal, water management, transportation routes and infrastructure, establishing a youth exchange program and other collaborative and humanitarian initiatives to foster greater understanding among the parties and reduce hostilities.”
In a new development this year in the House bill, foreign military assistance to Turkey was reduced sharply from $29.6 million in FY 2005 to just $4.4 million for FY 2006. While the Committee report was careful to state that the reduction “is not a reflection of a lessening of the Committee’s appreciation for Turkey’s support,” it did note that “sufficient justification” was not provided for the funds.
In a related matter, the House will take up a $975 million veterans healthcare measure this evening, the funding for which comes from a $1.1 billion rescission in foreign aid to Turkey that was part of the FY 2005 Iraq supplemental assistance package.
“It is particularly fitting that $1 billion in U.S. assistance, originally slated for Turkey, should now go to help fund better healthcare for our veterans here at home,” noted Hamparian. “By Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s own account, Turkey’s refusal, in early 2003, to create a northern front in Operation Iraqi Freedom contributed to the strength of the ongoing insurgency. These much-needed funds to our nation’s Veterans Hospitals can play a crucial role in helping our veterans – including those who were made more vulnerable as a result of Turkey’s actions.”
Representatives Knollenberg, Pallone, and Rothman Hail House Passage of the House Foreign Aid Bill
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) were joined this week by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) in welcoming the House passage of the foreign aid measure.
Reps. Knollenberg and Rothman are both outspoken leaders in support of U.S. assistance to Armenia in the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee. “The U.S needs to provide persistent and vigorous assistance to help minimize the negative impacts of the damaging blockades on Armenia’s borders,” explained Rep. Knollenberg. “Our assistance has so far produced important positive reforms in Armenia’s economy and government. With the funds approved in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, Armenia can continue on the path towards economic stability.”
Rep. Rothman noted that, “most Americans believe that America spends 10%-15% of its budget on foreign aid. That simply is not the case, we only spend about 1% of our budget on foreign aid – and that 1% is very well spent. By giving Armenia this aid package, we are providing the financial support that will help this nation establish a more fiscally sound economy, while also ensuring its security.”
Rep. Pallone stressed that, “by allocating equal levels of military and security assistance to both nations (Armenia and Azerbaijan), the U.S. government will preserve its credibility as an impartial and leading mediator in the continuing sensitive peace negotiations for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Given the ongoing Azerbaijani blockades and threats to renew military aggression against Armenia and Karabakh, it is critically important that the Administration continue to promote balanced short- and long-term policies that elevate regional cooperation and reduce the risk of conflict in the South Caucasus region.”
In response to an initiative spearheaded by Congressman Pallone, the House version of the bill included $500,000 for the creation of an Armenian Institute at Monmouth University. In advancing this measure through the appropriations process, Congressman Pallone stressed the value of providing opportunities to Armenian graduate students to further their education in the United States by studying at Monmouth University. The Institute will include a fast-tracked Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Program for 10 students from Armenia.
Commenting on the adoption of this measure, Rep. Pallone said, “New Jersey is home to a very large Armenian-American population, and I’m confident Monmouth University’s Armenian Institute will foster greater appreciation of a culture steep in tradition and history. Armenia continues to suffer from economic hardships and it is important to educate future economic leaders who are pro-west and can help the situation there.”