In response to Congressional concerns first raised by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), the State Department has removed Azerbaijan from a list of countries eligible to purchase U.S. military hardware which could be used by the Aliyev regime in its ongoing attacks against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA.)
“This decision by Secretary Clinton is in the best interests of the Armenian people and for peace in the region,” said Rep. Berman, upon receiving the modified formal notification from the State Department late on June 27th.
“We would like to thank Rep. Berman for taking immediate action to block this proposed arms sale, particularly given the Aliyev regime’s recent attacks against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh that coincided with Secretary Clinton’s visit to the Caucasus,” stated ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian. “Military equipment sales to Azerbaijan only serve to arm and embolden a belligerent Azerbaijani government, whose threats and acts of aggression undermine the Karabakh peace process and stability in the region overall.”
In a May 29th letter to Secretary Clinton, Rep. Berman referenced announcements of a sale of military hardware which would be used in conjunction with Azerbaijan’s military helicopter fleet for “border surveillance and ‘police-type’ activities.” In addition to possible attacks against Armenia, Rep. Berman expressed concern about the “message that such a sale would send to the regional parties, both in terms of perceived U.S. even-handedness and in terms of our seriousness about persuading Baku to cease its bellicose rhetoric and agree to Minsk Group co-chair demands that it remove its snipers from the ‘line of contact’ in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.”
The ANCA expressed its opposition to the sale as part of a seven-point memo sent to Congressional offices and the White House immediately after the June 4 – 6 Azerbaijani attacks against Armenia and Karabakh that left some 10 soldiers dead. “The Obama Administration should suspend all military aid to Azerbaijan, and stop the sale or transfer to Baku of any military equipment or dual-use items (including the proposed sale of advanced helicopter-based surveillance equipment – DDTC 12-002),” explained Nahapetian in the memo.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) subsequently raised concerns about this proposed military hardware sale during Senate Foreign Relations Committee consideration of the nomination of Richard Morningstar for U.S. Ambassador Azerbaijan.
In his questions to Morningstar, Sen. Menendez called specific attention to recent cross-border attacks by Azerbaijan against Armenia, threats by President Aliyev that “Armenians will live in fear,” and the assertion that “Our [Azerbaijan’s] main enemies are Armenians of the world.” Menendez continued, asking “do you think, based upon those types of statements, that the proposed sales of military hardware to be used in conjunction with Azerbaijan’s military helicopter fleet is really in the national interest of the United States?”
Morningstar argued, in part, that “There are increasing tensions with respect to other neighbors, in particular with Iran. And we have to provide, I think, security assistance, possibly military assistance in ways that cannot be used to exacerbate any situation with respect to Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh.” Menendez was quick to respond, reminding Morningstar that “I didn’t hear President Aliyev say ‘My main enemy or security concern is Iran,’ he said that, ‘Our main enemies are the Armenians of the world.’ [. . .] I have a real problem with going ahead and selling military hardware to the Azerbaijanis based upon what has happened.”