WASHINGTON — Senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Armenian Caucus Member Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) last week urged support for US funding for demining efforts in Artsakh during the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats hearing entitled “Examining the President’s FY 2018 Budget Proposal for Europe and Eurasia,” reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
“Let’s talk a little bit about demining in Artsakh. Our assistance programs for what was then called the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh has since Fiscal Year 98 supported lifesaving maternal healthcare, provided for clean drinking water, and cleared mines and unexploded ordinance. HALO Trust, which is leading the demining efforts, reports that it has completed about 88% of its mission but continues to need US funds to continue its lifesaving work, additional humanitarian needs continue. Do we expect HALO Trust to be funded so that it can complete the demining effort?” Sherman asked.
US Department of State’s European and Eurasian Affairs Bureau Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ambassador John Heffern, in return, responded: “Over the years, as you know, we have given Nagorno Karabakh — the people of Nagorno Karabakh — $45 million in assistance, humanitarian as you described it, [for] water and demining. As I understood, the recent HALO Trust report estimated closer to 96-97% coverage on their demining efforts, which is very important, and there is going to be an assessment of that before we make decision on the next step.”
US Agency for International Development (USAID) Europe and Eurasia Bureau Acting Assistant to the Administrator Margot Ellis added that demining is normally funded from their regional budget. “In the past, we have sent a request to Congress for us to be engaged and we will put in a similar request,” she added.
In its Fiscal Year 2018 testimony, the Assembly urged not less than $8 million be allocated for Arstakh, including de-mining activities. “For a relatively small investment, America has the opportunity to make a significant difference in the everyday lives of the people of Artsakh,” the Assembly stated in testimony.
Sherman also raised the importance of negotiating a bilateral tax treaty with Armenia and making this agreement a high priority at the State Department. He stated: “We’ve seen a surge in US commercial engagement with Armenia, including as reported by the Ambassador upwards of $500 million in new American investments in the Armenia energy and mining sectors.” Sherman continued: “the Department of Treasury has to prioritize where to put their tax lawyers, and a number of other countries want to negotiate these agreements with us. But it occurs to me that we have a national security interest in making sure that we have good commercial ties with the former Soviet states.” Sherman noted that the Armenian government has gone on record stating that they will base it on the American model.