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U.S. Halts Arms Sales to Zimbabwe, Lifts Ban on Armenia, Azerbaijan
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May 2002

By Wade Boese

Charging that Zimbabwe’s latest national election “subverted the democratic process,” the Bush administration announced April 17 that U.S. arms exports to the African country would be halted and that future weapons requests would be denied indefinitely. The move goes against the recent U.S. trend of waiving restrictions on its arms trade and military contacts with several countries, most recently Armenia and Azerbaijan, to secure their support in the U.S. war on terrorism.

Secretary of State Colin Powell sharply criticized Zimbabwe two days after its March 9-11 election, which was won by long-time President Robert Mugabe. Powell accused Mugabe’s government of carrying out an “orchestrated campaign of intimidation and violence” before the elections and warned that Washington might take action against the regime.

The April 17 announcement bars Pentagon arms deliveries to Zimbabwe, which have totaled only $764,000 since late 1991, as well as exports by private U.S. companies through direct commercial sales. About $3 million in authorized commercial deals, including sales of firearms and helicopter and aircraft spare parts, are now frozen.

A few weeks earlier on March 29, the United States removed its restrictions on selling arms to Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been in place since July 1993. Future weapons requests by the two countries, which are hostile neighbors with an unresolved dispute over a breakaway Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan, will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The two countries generally abide by a 1994 ceasefire and are participating in talks, which are being sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on finding a solution to their conflict. A State Department spokesperson said the dialogue and the U.S. effort to combat global terrorism were the two factors in the U.S. decision to lift its arms trade restrictions.

The two countries will receive $4.4 million each this year in U.S. Foreign Military Financing grants with which they will have five years to buy U.S. military hardware and training. The Bush administration is also requesting $3 million in grants for each country next year.

Over the past several months, Washington has waived arms trade prohibitions with India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Yugoslavia. Washington has also eased restrictions on exports to Indonesia, permitting nonlethal defense trade with the country.

In addition to Zimbabwe, U.S. law rules out all U.S. arms trade with 17 countries: Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, North Korea, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States is currently reviewing its policy on Afghanistan.