WASHINGTON, D.C.- The US Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill, which ensures continued funding to Armenia and supports humanitarian programs in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), reported the Armenian Assembly of America.
According to the bill’s report language, which Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) advanced: “The Committee remains concerned with the protracted conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, endorses the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Process, and supports humanitarian and health programs funded by the act for victims of that conflict, including for regional rehabilitation centers to care for infants, children, and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities.” The overall bill also provides $3.4 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance.
The Committee included language that puts Turkey on notice for purchasing military systems from Russia. The Russian-made military equipment exposes the United States to potential risk in the region. Spearheaded by Senator Van Hollen and with the support of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Committee adopted an amendment which would expressly prohibit spending funds from FY 2019 – as well as prior fiscal years – to transfer, or facilitate the transfer, of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey until the Secretary of State certifies that Turkey is not purchasing and will not accept deliveries of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Chairman Lindsey Graham stated during the mark-up: “I find it very odd that we live in a time where a NATO ally is buying a missile defense systems from Russia. This is not exactly what I had in mind for NATO…”
According to Senator Van Hollen’s press release , “senior defense officials have said that if Turkey operates both the F-35 and the S-400, it could compromise the F-35’s security, including the aircraft’s stealth capabilities, and represent a strategic threat to the United States. It would also compromise the security of our allies and stand in clear violation of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act.”
The bill restates the traditional exceptions to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, while the report language maintains military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, recommending $600,000 for International Military Education and Training and $1 million for the Foreign Military Financing Program for each country. The Senate report language also recommends the same funding for Armenia consistent with last year’s level: $17.633 million through the Assistance to Europe Eurasia and Central Asia (AEECA) account and $1.5 million for International Narcotics Controls and Law Enforcement.
The bill allocates $25 million for programs to promote and protect international religious freedom. In addition, the bill provides $6.5 million for the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, and $2 million for the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia.
Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2019 SFOPS bill on a vote of 30-21.