U.S. senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced a major bill (S. 2461) in the U.S. Senate that would bar assistance for a proposed $800 million railway that would connect Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey while bypassing Armenia, an Armenian Assembly of America 28 March 2006 press-release informs.

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(photo from www.zhamanak.com)

he legislation, known as the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act, was introduced shortly after participants of the Assembly’s National Conference met with senior staff representing Senators Santorum and Menendez – both longtime supporters of Armenian issues. The three-day National Conference was co-hosted by the AGBU and Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church.

“United States policy in the South Caucasus seeks to foster regional stability and enhanced cooperation, and includes open borders and transport corridors,” Santorum told the Assembly. “The proposed rail link would not only undermine U.S. long-term goals for the region, but serves to isolate Armenia. Efforts to foster economic integration and reduce the risk of further tensions are in the best interests of the United States and the South Caucasus.”

Menendez, echoing Santorum, added that “the sole aim of this costly project is to further isolate Armenia by enhancing the ongoing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate and members of the Armenian-American community to block U.S. financial support of this rail project.”

“We commend the leadership of Senators Santorum and Menendez for this Senate initiative to prohibit funding for this ill-conceived route, which not only thwarts U.S. policy goals, but is also a continuation of Azerbaijan’s blockade plus strategy to marginalize Armenia, which we cannot allow,” said Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian. “The realization of this legislation is a testament to the grassroots activism exemplified throughout this National Conference.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told an Azeri news agency last summer that, “We are currently working on a new project – a new rail road Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku..If we succeed with this project, the Armenians will end in complete isolation, which would create an additional problem for their future, their already bleak future…”