Friday, October 10, 2008

Briefly: U.S. aid to Armenia and Georgia, France mediates Russia-Georgia peace deal

First published in September 13, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan and Lusine Sarkisyan

Rep. Sherman calls for additional U.S. aid to Armenia

Citing losses suffered by Armenia’s economy as a result of the fighting in Georgia last month, Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) called on the Bush administration to provide additional assistance to Armenia.

“Armenia is an innocent victim of this war,” Mr. Sherman told Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing held on September 9.

Mr. Sherman cited an estimate announced by the secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, Artur Baghdasarian, and published by the RFE/RL Armenian Report on September 3, that the conflict cost Armenia as much as $680 million in damages.

Dan Fried at the hearing, with Mike McFaul, Obama campaign advisor at top left.

Like other State Department officials before him, Mr. Fried acknowledged that the fighting in Georgia hurt Armenia but said that the Bush administration, which on September 3 announced plans for $1 billion in additional aid to Georgia, had no plans to provide additional help to Armenia.

Of the $1 billion total, the administration wants $570 million appropriated this year, of which $200 million would be new funds and $370 million “re-programmed” from other foreign affairs programs.

But Mr. Fried kept the door open: “I would have to look at what Armenia has, and what lies behind these large estimates for damage, that seems pretty high, but I would want to take a look at this.”

Earlier this year, before the Georgia fighting, the House of Representatives approved $60 million in annual economic aid to both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, with a similar amount appropriated for Georgia. In its initial request, the Bush Administration suggested only $24 million in Armenia aid.

The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) reported in a September 9 press release that it had sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, which decides foreign aid levels, pointing out the impact the fighting in Georgia had on Armenia.

The release further cited Mr. Sherman as saying that he was “deeply troubled that the Administration failed to take into account the impact that this recent crisis
has had on our ally Armenia.

“We must ensure that any aid package also includes Armenia,” Mr. Sherman concluded.

Congress cool to Georgia aid request

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, questioned the Bush administration’s rationale for providing Georgia with $1 billion in additional U.S. assistance after its government defied U.S. calls for restraint and attacked South Ossetia last month.

They also wondered why the United States would want to continue to antagonize Russia, whose help is needed in containing Iran and nonproliferation and counterterrorism efforts around the world.

GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

“The Russians are right! We’re wrong! Georgia started it, the Russians ended it,” Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R.-Calif.) told Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried during a September 9 hearing.

Mr. Fried argued that “Georgia’s move into South Ossetian capital provided a pretext [but] was no justification for Russian invasion of Georgia.” He added that U.S. assistance to Georgia intended to send a signal to other small pro-American states that they would not be abandoned by the United States.

But Mr. Rohrabacher recalled that U.S. military action against Serbia and in support of Kosovo in 1999 caused more civilian deaths (about 500) than Russia’s military action in Georgia (about 100) and that the United States was “undermining its credibility” by opposing South Ossetia’s self-determination and, in the process, unnecessarily antagonizing Russia.

“We have been just pushing the Russians and pushing the Russians, making them into an enemy when they at first wanted to be friends,” he argued.

Reps. Eni Faleomavaega (D.-American Samoa), Don Payne (D.-N.J.), Brad Sherman (D.-N.J.), Bill Delahunt (D.-Mass.), Diane Watson (D.-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.), Ron Klein (D.-Fla.), Ed Royce (R.-Calif.), Ron Paul (R.-Tex.), and Ted Poe (R.-Tex.), also questioned the rationale for the administration’s approach and appeared to oppose the proposed aid package.

Committee chair Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.-Fla.), Reps. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.), Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.), David Scott (D.-Ga.), Gene Green (D.-Tex.), and Albio Sires (D.-N.J.) in turn criticized Russia’s actions and urged support for Georgia, but none openly backed the $1 billion aid package and many sounded unhappy with the United States’ ability to deal with Russia.

“Administration policy toward Russia seems to be: Speak loudly, carry a small stick,” surmised Mr. Berman, the Committee chair.

United States to assess Georgian military needs

The Pentagon will dispatch an assessment team to Georgia this week to investigate the damage suffered by that country’s U.S.-trained military and determine its needs, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 9. Georgian armed forces and especially their infrastructure are believed to have largely destroyed in the several days of conflict.

Meanwhile, Russia formally proposed an international embargo on arms supplies to Georgia, proposing a United Nations Security Council resolution to that effect, which is certain to be blocked by the United States and its allies. U.S. officials said that this week that while no decisions have yet been taken, Washington reserves the right to resume military assistance to Georgia.

In his testimony, Mr. Edelman said that Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia was “unwise” and came as a surprise for the United States. According to the Pentagon
official, the United States first began to worry when “Georgian troops being trained for their future deployment to Iraq did not show up for training,” presumably on the morning of August 7, about 15 hours before the attack was launched.

U.S. officials denied Russian government claims that U.S. personnel may have been involved in the fighting. Mr. Edelman noted that there were 84 U.S. military personnel in Georgia as of August 7.

Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried said most of the U.S. military advisors were evacuated shortly after Russia launched military operations
in Georgia.

Mr. Edelman further said that Georgian “artillery fire and multiple launched rockets into urban areas and into the proximity of Russian peacekeepers is lamentable, and we do not condone this activity.” But he added the U.S. government was still determined to continue to help Georgia.

Europeans hammer out Russian-Georgian peace agreement

Russia pledged to fully pull its troops out from Georgia within a month after Tbilisi gives a legal pledge to never again use force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, effectively surrendering sovereignty over its former provinces now recognized by Russia as independent states, news agencies reported.

This was the main agreement reached by Russia and Georgia with mediation from French president Nicolas Sarkozy and European Union officials who shuttled between Moscow and Tbilisi on September 8. The new agreement builds on and clarifies the ceasefire deal Mr. Sarkozy helped mediate on August 12; that deal had put an end to most Russian military operations inside Georgia.

While Russia intends to keep several thousand of its troops inside both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, international monitors will take up stations in adjacent Georgian territories. The status of the two republics will become a focus of international talks that would start next month in Geneva.

The United States welcomed the agreement as it puts a clear deadline to Russian military presence inside Georgia proper.

During Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 9, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried acknowledged that as part of the negotiated agreement, “Russia will have succeeded in grabbing two small provinces” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Los Angeles Times reported the same day.

But, he added, the U.S. priority was to make sure the sovereignty of the rump Georgian state is not “crushed” completely.

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