ArmInfo. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) took to the U.S. House floor today for a colloquy with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) in support of his legislative efforts - via the U.S.-Artsakh Travel and Communication Resolution (H.Res.190) - to end arbitrary and outdated State Department restrictions on U.S. engagement with the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
"We must remain committed to strengthening the ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh, removing barriers to dialogue, and resolving status and security issues that have hindered discussions in the past," said Rep. Pallone. "Allowing direct and open dialogue and allowing our diplomats to have a presence on the ground as necessary and when safe is the only way for the United States to help bring this conflict to a resolution." As part of the colloquy (a scripted exchange between legislators) Chairwoman Lowey committed to work with Congressman Pallone on this matter. "We want to thank Congressman Pallone for his principled leadership in breaking down artificial barriers to the direct and open dialogue among all stakeholders that surely represent our best hope for a durable and democratic Artsakh peace," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
"It's time to give diplomacy a chance, to promote broad-based government-to-government engagement, and to deepen civil society contact and communication at all levels. It's time to pass H.Res.190."
Late last week, Rep. Pallone had filed a proposed amendment to the FY2020 foreign aid bill stating: "none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to enforce U.S. government restrictions or prohibitions on visits, travel, contacts, or communications with Nagorno Karabakh." The Rules Committee, which screens amendments prior to their consideration by the full House, ruled Rep. Pallone's amendment "not in order." Joining Rep. Pallone in supporting this proposed amendment were fellow Congressional Armenian Caucus leaders Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Peter King (R-NY), Adam Schiff (D- CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA).
During a March, 2019, interview with then-ANCA Government Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian, Rep. Pallone, who holds the record for number of Congressional visits to Artsakh, drew attention to the obstacles Members of Congress typically face when considering this trip. "First of all you can't use any U.S. vehicles or transportation to go to Artsakh, but beyond that, they [U.S. State Department] constantly tell you it's not safe; there's going to be consequences; you're going to be put on the Azerbaijan blacklist," explained Rep. Pallone. "They essentially try to scare people from going - and obviously, if they are trying to scare me and other Members of Congress, that's certainly going to discourage private individuals and businesses as well." Pallone went on to note that "Artsakh is a functioning democracy, a market economy - very much like the United States and the rest of the West. I want people to know that. And, if it's going to be successful, there has to be not only political cooperation but economic cooperation. None of that [economic and political cooperation] is helpful if you have a restriction on communications and travel."