WASHINGTON ― Senators unanimously passed legislation last week that would cut off U.S. security aid to Azerbaijan for the next two years amid growing concerns that it may invade southern Armenia in the near future.

The Senate passed the Armenian Protection Act by unanimous consent with little fanfare on Wednesday. The bill, introduced by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., would bar President Joe Biden from issuing a waiver in fiscal 2024 and FY25 needed to unlock Azerbaijani security assistance.

The vote comes after more than 100,000 Armenians fled the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region after Azerbaijan placed them under siege for more than nine months in what Armenia has described as ethnic cleansing.

“We must send a strong message and show our partners around the world that America will enforce the conditions that we attach to military aid,” Peters, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “If we do not take action when countries willfully ignore the terms of our agreements with them, our agreements will become effectively meaningless and toothless.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed lawmakers on the situation in October and expressed concern that Azerbaijan may launch an invasion of southern Armenia in the coming weeks, Politico reported.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called on Armenia to establish a corridor through southern Armenia to directly connect Azerbaijan with its exclave that borders Turkey and Iran, at times threatening to do so by force.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday before the Senate vote that the Biden administration does not intend to renew the waiver needed to provide security aid to Azerbaijan. The waiver is a longstanding point of contention between the State Department and the Congressional Armenian Caucus, which boasts more than 100 lawmakers.

Congress first blocked security aid to Azerbaijan in 1992 after the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. However, it subsequently passed legislation in 2001 that allowed the State Department to issue an annual waiver allowing Baku to receive military aid amid mounting tensions at the time between Azerbaijan and neighboring Iran over energy exploration in the Caspian Sea.

The State Department and Pentagon reported $164 million in security aid for Azerbaijan between FY02 and FY20, per the Government Accountability Office, a small portion of the overall U.S. security assistance budget. The Trump administration was responsible for the bulk of that total, providing nearly $100 million in security aid to Azerbaijan in FY18 and FY19 under a Pentagon program designed to build partner capacity.

Congress increased pressure on the State Department to end Azerbaijan’s security aid waiver after the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, which saw Baku take back control of the disputed territory.

The House has yet to pass the Armenian Protection Act that would end the waivers for the next two years.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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