By Emil Danielyan
The United States will formalize later this month the release of $235.5 million in additional economic assistance to Armenia over the next five years under President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
A source at the U.S. embassy in Yerevan told RFE/RL on Wednesday that Armenia’s MCA compact, already agreed by the two governments, will be signed in Washington on March 27.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Armenian Assembly of America said the signing ceremony will be attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. The U.S. and Armenian governments have yet to confirm the information.
The agreement will come nearly two years after Armenia was included on the list of 16 developing nations that are eligible for the scheme designed to spur political and economic reforms around the world. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency handling it, approved the Armenian government’s MCA application late last year.
However, MCC made the release of the requested aid conditional on “corrective steps” that would demonstrate the Armenian authorities’ commitment to protecting human rights record and tackling chronic electoral fraud. In a December 16 letter to President Robert Kocharian, the corporation’s chief executive, John Danilovich, cited serious irregularities reported during the November 27 constitutional referendum in Armenia..
Oskanian replied that his government acknowledges the “deficiencies” that marred the referendum and will do its best to ensure that Armenia’s next parliamentary and presidential elections, due in 2007 and 2008 respectively, are more democratic. Danilovich found these assurances convincing, noting Yerevan’s “commitment to sustaining the democratic reforms” in a second letter to Kocharian sent on January 18.
“We clearly have a lot of faith in the process of democratization here,” Matthew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, said during a visit to Yerevan on Tuesday. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have extended the Millennium Challenge Account program to our friends here in Armenia.”
Speaking at a news conference, Bryza avoided any criticism of the Kocharian administration’s human rights and democracy records. He said Armenia is “on the right path” both politically and economically.
Armenia’s main opposition groups think otherwise, however. They say the November referendum, the official results of which were called into question by European observers, showed that the ruling regime is disinterested in holding free and fair elections.
Most of the MCA assistance, $146 million, will be spent on rebuilding and expanding Armenia’s disused irrigation networks. Another $67 million will go to pay for capital repairs on about 1,000 kilometers of rural roads that have fallen into disrepair since the Soviet collapse. Danilovich warned that the aid program could be suspended or even terminated in case of a “significant slippage in the indicators or actions inconsistent with the principles that support Armenia’s eligibility” for MCA.