Monday, June 22, 2009

Silva Harotonian update, Rxns to Obama aid request, UN HRC vote

This was first published in May 16, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S., family continue to call for Iranian-Armenian’s release

With Roxana Saberi, an Iranian­-American journalist released this week, the family of Iranian-­Armenian aid worker Silva ­Harotonian urged Iranian authorities to offer her clemency as well.

In a May 13 statement distributed by Fox News, Klara Moradkhan, Ms. Harotonian's American cousin, suggested that "the very basis on which Ms. Saberi was freed - Iran's recognition that it and the United States are not in a state of hostility toward one another - would support Silva's release as well under Iranian law."

Ms. Harotonian was arrested in June 2008 and was last January sentenced to a three-year prison term. The Iranian legal system is currently considering her second and final appeal. Ms. Harotonian was an administrator for a U.S.-funded maternal and children's health program, but was charged with trying to undermine the Iranian government; she was reportedly pressured to testify against herself.

U.S. officials have called charges against both Ms. Harotonian and Ms. Saberi "baseless" and have called on Iran to release them.

According to media reports this week, the case against Ms. Saberi was based mostly on a confidential document she reportedly copied while working for an Iranian government entity several years earlier. Ms. Saberi was initially sentenced to eight years in prison before being released on parole.

Members of Congress react to administration’s Armenia aid request

Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), co-chairs of the congressional Armenian caucus, said they "will work to restore funding for Armenia." Their statement came a day after the Obama administration requested aid levels that were lower than funds appropriated in Fiscal Year 2009.

"We are confident that as the [Fiscal Year 2010] appropriations process moves forward, Congress will increase economic assistance to Armenia beyond the Administration's budget proposal and will provide aid to Nagorno Karabakh," Reps. Pallone and Kirk said on May 8.

Also reacting to the request was Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) who briefly raised the issue during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew on May 13. Mr. Sherman mentioned the issue along with several others, asking Mr. Lew for a written response.

Mr. Sherman also requested a comment on the issue from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her April 22 testimony at the committee; neither response was available as of press time.

In a March 24 letter to the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee leadership, Reps. Pallone and Kirk requested an increase in U.S. aid to Armenia (see table below). The subcommittee will review the administration's proposal in the next few months.

U.S. aid programs
(in millions of dollars)

FY2010 proposals FY2009 proposals and appropriated levels
Obama & Caucus requested Bush & Caucus requested Congress appropriated

Armenia 30.0 70 24.0 70 48.0
Karabakh N/A 10 N/A 10 8.0
military 3.5 5 3.3 5 3.5
military 4.9 0 3.9 0 3.5

Ambassador to Armenia reacts to critics of aid request

In what is likely to form the basis for the State Department's response to critics of the administration's request, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia issued a letter from Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch that reiterated America's commitment to its "longstanding partnership with Armenia."

In her letter Ms. Yovanovitch noted that President Barack Obama's request was an increase over President George W. Bush's request last year, and that "actual levels of assistance" are determined by the U.S. Congress, which has traditionally revised administration requests upward.

"With respect to funding for Nagorno­-Karabakh, there has never been a budget request sent to Congress because there is no mechanism for doing so in the budget process," the ambassador noted. "Rather, the humanitarian assistance provided to Nagorno-Karabakh is worked out afterwards, during the budget negotiation between Congress and the Administration."

Ms. Yovanovitch also noted that a somewhat larger request for military aid to Azerbaijan "is linked to U.S. priorities in peacekeeping and maritime security on the Caspian Sea" and that "they do not adversely affect the military balance" between Armenia and Azerbaijan as is stipulated by U.S. law.

The Embassy noted that nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid has been provided to Armenia since the 1988 earthquake; that amounted included $68.9 million provided in 2008.

U.S., Armenian officials hold regular consultations

In a meeting of the U.S.-Armenia Economic Task Force (USATF) on May 13, delegations led by Economics Minister Nerses Yeritsian and State Department coordinator for aid to Eurasia Dan Rosenblum "discussed advancing economic and market reforms, strengthening rule of law, and other bilateral issues," the U.S. Embassy in Armenia said in a statement.

The discussions are intended to produce an "action plan [that] helps in tailoring assistance to Armenia coming from the United States Government."

Established nine years ago, USATF held its previous meeting in Washington last November.

Azerbaijan voted out of UN body

Hungary will replace Azerbaijan at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), having won more international support for one of two vacant seats on the council. The other seat went to Russia, which like Azerbaijan was first elected to the body in 2006. In the May 12 vote, Russia won the support of 146 countries, Hungary of 131 countries and Azerbaijan of 84 countries.

"The election of Hungary, especially over Azerbaijan, a country with a poor human rights record but with considerable influence thanks to its energy resources, is something to applaud," Vladimir Shkolnikov of the U.S.-based rights group Freedom House said in a statement. For UNHRC it "is a small but important step in the right direction," he added.

Also winning a three-year term on the council was the United States, backed by 167 of the total of 192 UN members. The United States was previously ousted from UNHRC's predecessor entity - the Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) - in 2001. (Armenia was elected to UNCHR twice - in 2002 and 2005.)

The UN human rights body was shunned by the Bush Administration for criticizing Israel and for including countries like Cuba. But the Obama administration argues that U.S. concerns would be better served through membership in the council.

The Geneva-based 47-member UNHRC makes recommendations to the General Assembly on human rights issues.

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