Caucasus Reality 20 march — 20:46

How U.S. stopped multi-million program in Karabakh (New details)

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The U.S. government has halted its funding for removing land mines in Nagorno-Karabakh, the largest American aid program in the occupied territory.

Specialist on Caucasus Joshua Kucera writes in his article published in Eurasianet, that the program has been strongly supported by Armenians and a longtime irritant to Azerbaijanis, but U.S. officials said the decision to defund the program was motivated by the virtual completion of the project and the need to direct resources to higher priorities rather than by any political considerations.

Still, Armenians and their supporters in the U.S. have rallied to try to convince Congress to restore the program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and carried out by the UK-based charity Halo Trust.

U.S. officials made the decision to halt their support of the program in spring of 2019, which set off a months-long battle between the federal government and pro-Armenia members of Congress who fought to get the funding restored.

But the Trump administration has not been convinced. In a February 18 letter to several members of Congress obtained by Eurasianet, senior officials from USAID and the State Department noted that no civilians had been injured by landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh since 2017.

“With casualties at an all-time low and contaminated land in the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast sparse, there are a number of opportunities that our agencies see for U.S. assistance funding that could have a greater impact on the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, such as preparing the populations for peace,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Taylor, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, and Richard C. Parker, Assistant Administrator of USAID for Legislative and Public Affairs. “Forward-looking programs that support a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and lay the groundwork for a more prosperous future offer the best hope for the populations of Nagorno-Karabakh in the long term.”

U.S. officials say the new funding will likely go towards programs in Armenia for promoting transparency and good governance, and in Azerbaijan for energy security and programs designed to wean the country off its dependence on oil and natural gas revenues.

“We see this [demining program] as a success … but at the same time we think we have reached a limit of what we can accomplish in supporting demining in traditional Nagorno-Karabakh,” a USAID official told Eurasianet, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And we’re looking forward to pivoting to other work in the region that could hopefully help resolve some of the regional conflicts.”

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