US House approves military aid cut to Azerbaijan while urging a boost for Armenia

Amendment passes House unanimously and will now go to Senate

US security aid to Baku had increased to $100 million per year in 2019 under former president Donald Trump. Courtesy Gerhard Reus
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The US House of Representatives has unanimously passed a legislative amendment that would partially cut military aid to Azerbaijan following the country's offensive against Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.

Proposed by Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone for the 2022 budget, the amendment was passed late Wednesday and states that “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this act under ‘International Military Education and Training’ and ‘Foreign Military Financing Programme’ may be made available for Azerbaijan".

US security aid to Azerbaijan had increased to $100 million per year in 2019 under former president Donald Trump.

The Pallone Amendment blames this assistance for empowering Baku's destabilising policies.

“The more than $120m in military aid the US has recklessly provided Azerbaijan has emboldened the tyrannical regime in Baku, materially empowering their ethnic cleansing in Artsakh last September and encouraging Baku to continue invading and occupying Armenian land today,” the amendment read.

But the amendment does not block the discretionary assistance the US Department of Defence provides to Azerbaijan.

It also includes language that would require Secretary of State Antony Blinken to consider “the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the diplomatic consequences of such disparity in military assistance” when issuing next year’s waiver allowing for US security assistance to be sent to Baku.

A report accompanying the amendment calls for boosting aid to Armenia “for economic development, private sector productivity, energy independence, democracy and the rule of law, and other purposes".

Ryan Bohl, a security analyst at the intelligence firm Stratfor, said the bipartisan support for the amendment “reflects rising pro-Armenia sentiment in Congress”, even though the scope of the bill is limited.

“It's symbolic of the return of human rights in American foreign policy under Joe Biden,” he said.

President Joe Biden recognised the Armenian Genocide last April, in a further display of the pro-Armenia mood in the US government. But the White House has been more cautious when it comes to aid to Azerbaijan.

Last April, Mr Biden extended a waiver allowing for US assistance to Azerbaijan under Section 907.

Mr Bohl said that the Biden administration wants to preserve critical interests with Baku.

“Azerbaijan is warm to Israel and warm to the US against Russia and Iran. While it's not a close relationship, Washington sees the geostrategic position of Baku as something they should try to keep in their back pocket and not necessarily fully sacrifice over human rights,” the expert explained.

On Wednesday night, the US State Department issued a statement calling for a halt to the fighting that recently resumed in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“We call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to uphold their ceasefire commitments by taking immediate steps to de-escalate the situation,” department spokesman Ned Price said.

He also urged both sides to return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve a long-term political settlement to the conflict.

The Pallone Amendment will now go to the Senate for a vote as part of the full foreign aid spending bill before it becomes law.

Updated: July 29, 2021, 5:17 PM