Biden waiving restriction blocking aid to Azerbaijan over Armenia conflict
President Biden has notified Congress the administration is extending a waiver allowing U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan that was originally restricted over Baku’s conflict with its neighbor Armenia and tension over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The waiver applies to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and its renewal — which has happened annually since 2002 — which allows the U.S. to provide military assistance to Azerbaijan so long as the secretary of State certifies that such assistance does not contribute to conflict in the region.
In a notification to Congress obtained by The Hill and sent on April 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken certified that such assistance to Azerbaijan would not “undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.”
The decision is drawing condemnation from the Armenian American community as a betrayal following Biden’s historic decision to recognize last month, for the first time, the Armenian Genocide.
“American recognition of the Armenian Genocide comes with responsibilities, among them not arming or abetting Azerbaijan’s drive to complete this crime,” Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in a statement.
“Any action by President Biden that greenlights U.S. aid to [Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s] regime runs counter to his clear stand and, more profoundly, the spirit of his recent recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” he added.
A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday responded to a request for comment from The Hill, saying in an emailed statement that “U.S. security assistance programs in Armenia and Azerbaijan are designed to enhance regional stability and are carefully monitored to ensure they do not hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict.”
Blinken also certified that providing U.S. assistance is “necessary to support U.S. efforts to counter international terrorism; or is necessary to support the operations readiness of the United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter international terrorism; or is important to Azerbaijan’s border security.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan are in a fragile cease-fire following an outbreak of fighting in October over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which lies within sovereign Azerbaijan but was largely administered, until recently, by ethnic Armenians that call the territory Artsakh.
A cessation of hostilities in November, brokered by Russia, saw ethnic Armenians cede territory to Azeri forces in what was viewed as a victory for the people of Azerbaijan who claim the territory as part of their own historical homeland.
Yet, Armenia criticizes Azerbaijan for continuing to hold Armenian detainees and prisoners captured during the fighting.
The U.S. is party to the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, along with Russia and France, which is charged with helping negotiate a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Blinken spoke with Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev on April 28 where he mentioned, among other things, international efforts to “negotiate a lasting political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict benefiting all people in the region.”
As the Democratic presidential nominee, Biden was critical of Azerbaijan’s role in the outbreak of fighting with Armenia, saying Baku instigated the fighting while calling on then-President Trump to block military assistance to Azerbaijan, specifically to withdraw the waiver under section 907.
Updated Tuesday at 8:22 a.m.