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Pallone Opposes Bush Administration Decision to Disregard Azerbaijan-Armenia Military Parity Agreement

April 19, 2004
Press Release

Washington, D.C. --- In a letter last week to President Bush, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, voiced strong opposition to the Bush administration's decision to abandon a 2001 agreement to provide parity in military funding to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The letter comes in response to testimony by a U.S. State Department official that the Bush administration would support a greater level of military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia.

"The United States must be perceived by both Armenia and Azerbaijan as an unbiased and impartial mediator," the New Jersey congressman wrote in the letter to President Bush. "Providing asymmetrical military assistance does not serve this vital objective.

During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March, Assistant Secretary for State Elizabeth Jones stated that the administration does not have a policy that the military funding levels for Armenia and Azerbaijan be identical and confirmed the administration's request for increased military funding for Azerbaijan.

This decision disregards a 2001 agreement reached between the White House and Congress during negotiations over granting presidential authority to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. The agreement requires that Congress receive prior notification of the "nature and quantity" of any additional assistance to Azerbaijan and the impact it would have on the military balance with Armenia and negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh.

"To my knowledge, you did not provide this information to Congress and have disregarded the 2001 Section 907 waiver agreement," Pallone wrote. "Your decision to abandon this agreement is disconcerting."

In the letter, Pallone expressed his concern that anti-Armenian sentiment instigated by Azerbaijan's government has increased in recent months. In February, an Armenian soldier was brutally murdered by an Azerbaijani soldier during attendance at a NATO Partnership for Peace course in Hungary. Pallone also pointed to reports that the Azerbaijani government has provided financial awards to individuals and organizations with the "best" propaganda work towards Armenians.

"In light of these conditions, I fail to understand how you or members of your Administration can be assured that increased U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan will not disrupt the balance between it and Armenia," Pallone wrote.

In February, Pallone initiated another letter to President Bush with 37 of his Democratic House colleagues calling on the president to support parity in military funding. To date, no response to the February letter has been received from the White House.

Text of the letter follows.

April 16, 2004

The Honorable George W. Bush

President of the United States

The While House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush,

I am writing to you regarding the issue of military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I am greatly disappointed to learn of testimony provided by staff of the State Department that makes clear your decision to provide a greater level of military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia. This decision disregards an agreement reached between the White House and Congress in late 2001 during negotiations over granting presidential authority to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Your decision to abandon this agreement is disconcerting.

On February 26, 2004, I, along with thirty-six of my House colleagues wrote to you and noted our disapproval of the Administration's Fiscal Year 2005 budget request in which you provided $8.75 million in military assistance for Azerbaijan while only providing $2.75 in military assistance to Armenia. While we have not yet received a response to this letter, I learned that your Administration has decided to continue its decision to abandon the parity agreement.

During the March 2, Foreign Assistance Oversight hearing before the Senate Foreign Relation's Committee regarding the Administration's fiscal year 2005 budget request, Assistant Secretary for State Elizabeth Jones stated in response to a question posed by Senator George Allen,

"We do not have a policy that FMF funding levels for Armenia and Azerbaijan should be identical, but we are determined to ensure that our military assistance to these two countries does not alter the military balance between them. We are confident that increased FMF funding for Azerbaijan will not alter the military capability or offensive posture of Azerbaijan, nor will it perturb the military balance between it and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

While you do have the ability to waive Section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act, the 2001 agreement requires that Congress be notified of such a decision prior to providing any assistance. This consultation with Congress must include a report on "the nature and quantity" of such assistance, its impact on the military balance between Armenian and Azerbaijan and the status of negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh. To my knowledge, you did not provide this information to Congress and have disregarded the 2001 Section 907 waiver agreement.

Finally, I would like to bring to your attention my belief anti-Armenian sentiment instigated by Azerbaijan's government has been increasing in the recent months. In February, an Armenian soldier was brutally murdered by an Azerbaijani soldier during attendance at a NATO Partnership for Peace course in Hungary. Furthermore, I have learned that the Azerbaijani government has provided financial awards to individuals and organizations with the "best" propaganda works towards Armenians. In light of these conditions, I fail to understand how you or members of your Administration can be assured that increased U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan will not disrupt the balance between it and Armenia.

The United States must be perceived by both Armenia and Azerbaijan as an unbiased and impartial mediator. Providing asymmetrical military assistance does not serve this vital objective.

Sincerely,

Frank Pallone, Jr.

Member of Congress