Azerbaijan International

Winter 1998 (6.4)
Pages 54-55


U.S. Ban on Aid to Azerbaijan (Section 907)
How It Started in 1992 and Why It Should be Lifted

by Ambassador John J. Maresca - First U.S. Mediator for the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Azerbaijani refugees from Karabakh

Azerbaijani destructed home in Karabakh

Left: When Armenian military forces captured Azerbaijani villages beginning in 1992, nearly 1 million Azerbaijanis were uprooted and had to flee from their lives. The lucky ones were able to take some of their belongings with them.

Right: Destruction caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh war runs into billions of dollars. Azerbaijanis are now rebuilding Horadiz, 1997.

The following is an edited version of a speech delivered on October 2, 1998 at a conference on U.S.-Azerbaijan relations in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. The panel included Tofig Zulfugarov, Azerbaijan's Minister of Foreign Affairs; Brent Scowcroft, Former National Security Advisor under President Bush; Ambassador Richard Armitage; and Ambassador Richard Morningstar, Special Advisor to President Clinton and the Secretary of State on Caspian Affairs and Energy Diplomacy.

What is Section 907?

Lisbon Summit (1996)?

I follow several distinguished speakers this morning and, therefore, will begin by emphasizing how much I agree with nearly everything which has already been said. I do not want to repeat the points which others have made. My special contribution to this panel is that I served as the first U.S. Mediator in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, I will focus my remarks on issues related to that conflict, its consequences for Azerbaijan and the response by the U.S. government.

As U.S. Ambassador in 1992 to what was then the CSCE (Conference on the Security and Cooperation of Europe) and now called the OSCE (Organization on the Security and Cooperation of Europe), I helped to develop the so-called Minsk Group into a conflict-resolution mechanism, because this would permit the U.S. to play a leadership role in a region where we had little presence or leverage. I felt this was necessary because there was no outside leadership in the region at the time. In fact, some thought there was only the negative leadership of Moscow in the form of a rear-guard action trying to retain or regain control over the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the Caucasus. Some even felt that elements in Moscow were aggravating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in order to bring Azerbaijan back under Russian control.

Creation of Minsk Group
The Minsk Group was designed to legitimize a leadership role for the United States. But back in 1992 American interest in the region was very low. The oil companies were much more interested than the U.S. government, which tended to see the Newly Independent States as a Russian sphere of influence. The U.S. government had many other concerns with Moscow that they gave higher priority, and obviously the Administration did not want to overload the circuits by challenging Russia's influence in the region. For this reason, Washington's backing for a leadership role in settling this conflict was weak, especially if contrasted with the U.S. role in conflicts in Iraq, Somalia, or even in the former Yugoslavia.

Consequently (under the Bush Administration), there was very limited effort to influence Congressional thinking, or to indicate that the U.S government was actively seeking an impartial role in the solution to this conflict. Congress was left to the influence of lobbyists and as a result Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, banning direct aid to the Azerbaijan government, was passed. Congress was simply ignorant of the issue at the time and of the implications of their actions. This early failure to inform and influence Congressional thinking imposes a responsibility on the present Administration to rectify and correct the results of that failure.

As soon as I learned of this restricting clause, I warned the Administration and the public that such legislation was unfair and would undermine the leadership position I was trying to establish to enable the U.S. to assist in finding an acceptable solution to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The reasons were threefold:

Reasons to Lift the Ban
1. Section 907 was, and is, grossly unfair. We are a nation which has a long tradition of trying to prevent or resolve distant conflicts, and we also try to assist the victims of such conflicts. There are not "good victims" and "bad victims"- there are just victims with broken lives. It is the proud tradition of our country to try to help all such people, regardless of which side they are on. Section 907 contradicts this tradition by taking sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict-by saying, in effect, that Azerbaijani victims are somehow less deserving.

2. If the United States is to play the role of leading mediator, it must not only be impartial, but it must also be perceived as impartial. Section 907 contradicts that essential impartiality, and is correctly viewed by Azerbaijanis as a favorable tilt toward the Armenian position. This was a severe handicap for U.S. mediators at the time and remains so today. Section 907 has thus contributed to the prolongation of the conflict and to the suffering it has generated.

3. Section 907 assumes that Azerbaijan has played an offensive role in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The wording of the restrictive clause refers to what it calls Azerbaijan's "offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh." But clearly Azerbaijan is not conducting offensive uses of force against anyone. On the contrary, it is Azerbaijan whose territories have been occupied, resulting in the suffering of hundreds of thousands of internal refugees. Azerbaijan has been on the defensive now for at least six years. Section 907 is, therefore, deeply unjustified and unfair and based entirely on faulty assumptions.

Presidential Waiver
I believe that the current U.S. Administration has the responsibility, and the grounds, for waiving Section 907 forthwith. The international community has confirmed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region. This was done in December 1996 at the OSCE Summit in Lisbon, when the Chairman read a statement, approved by each of the 54 member states except Armenia, and it was entered into the record. This is a very strong endorsement of Azerbaijan's position.

What this means is that Azerbaijan's actions in response to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be "offensive". A country is not conducting "offensive uses of force" if it is defending its own territorial integrity. Section 907 permits a waiver of its provisions when the U.S. President determines that Azerbaijan "is taking demonstrable steps to cease" what it calls "offensive uses of force" in the conflict.

Since Azerbaijan's position is so obviously defensive, as confirmed by the OSCE statement, a Presidential waiver can, and should, be issued on these grounds. It should have been issued a long time ago. Such action would move the process of resolution of this conflict one huge step forward.

What is happening now is that an unfair percentage of U.S. assistance is going to Armenia, [more than $1 billion since 1992] and Azerbaijan is being treated as though it were solely responsible for the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This is unjustifiable on its face, and is out of keeping with U.S. traditions and the U.S. effort to mediate a solution. A solution based on autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh can be found, and it is up to the U.S. to play a major role in finding it. The first step is to put the U.S. position on an impartial basis by waiving Section 907.

Role of the Private Sector
Many private organizations and companies have tried to compensate for some of the negative effects of Section 907 by contributing private assistance to Azerbaijan. My company, Unocal, is proud to have worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop housing for a number of Azerbaijani refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh region. We have also contributed to other humanitarian assistance programs, and we plan to contribute more. Others have done the same.

But this does not compensate for the psychological and real impact of the U.S. law. Section 907 must be repealed by Congress or waived by the President, as soon as possible. I would appeal to Ambassador Morningstar to carry this message back to the Administration, especially the White House. There is an opportunity for wise presidential leadership here, and the President should seize upon it as soon as possible for the benefit of all the peoples of the Caucasus.

Azerbaijani refugee woman from KarabakhSection 907 of the Freedom Support Act
The U.S. Congress passed the Freedom Support Act in the fall of 1992 to facilitate economic and humanitarian aid to the former republics of the Soviet Union, hoping it would help stabilize democratic forms of government and foster economic growth. All 15 republics are eligible for assistance with the exception of Azerbaijan. The countries that receive aid under this legislation include Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Since 1992 the Armenian government has received more than $1 billion in aid under this legislation. Azerbaijan's government has received none. The clause restricting aid to Azerbaijan reads as follows:

Restriction on Assistance to Azerbaijan (Title 9: Section 907) "United States assistance under this or any other Act . . . may not be provided to the Government of Azerbaijan until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh."

Lisbon Summit-1996
The Principles of the Lisbon Declaration regarding a settlement for Nagorno-Karabakh included in the Chairman's statement recorded at the Lisbon OSCE Summit are:

(1) Territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic;

(2) Legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh based on self-determination which confers on Nagorno-Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan;

(3) Guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all parties with the provisions of the settlement.

John J. Maresca, former U.S. Ambassador and Mediator of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (1992), is currently the Vice-President for International Relations of the Unocal Corporation.

From Azerbaijan International (6.4) Winter 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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