By Ruben Meloyan
The provision of $236 million in additional U.S. economic assistance to Armenia is conditional on proper conduct of its forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
The five-year aid package is part of the U.S. administration’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program that seeks promote economic and political reforms around the world. Armenia and neighboring Georgia remain the only ex-Soviet states eligible for the scheme. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government agency managing it, has already disbursed the first $1.4 million installment of the sum earmarked for Armenia.
"In order for Armenia to continue to receive this funding, the Armenian government must maintain a high level of performance in ruling justly, investing in people and promoting economic freedom,” Anthony Godfrey, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, told reporters in Yerevan. “Only by continuing to institute democratic reforms, including ensuring a free and fair process in the run-up to the 2007 and 2008 elections, can Armenia make sure that its people can continue to benefit from this $236 million program."
Earlier this month, the MCC reaffirmed Armenia’s eligibility for the program despite serious concerns about the Yerevan government’s democracy and human rights records that were expressed by the corporation’s chief executive, John Danilovich. In a May letter to President Robert Kocharian, Danilovich said that a “continued negative trend in Armenia’s policy performance would endanger the continuation of the recently signed [MCA] Compact.”
Godfrey warned that the MCC might therefore reconsider its decision in the course of the next year. “Normally the board will review eligibility criteria one time per year,” he said. “But in the case of a sharp drop in any of the [MCA eligibility] indicators or categories, it can make a more abrupt decision.”
“But it’s our great hope that that won’t happen,” the U.S. diplomat added.
Alex Russin, an MCC executive in charge of the compact’s implementation, made it clear that next year’s parliamentary elections will be a crucial test for the Armenian authorities’ stated commitment to democracy and rule of law. “We are concerned about the upcoming elections, and I hope that it will be a chance for the government and the Armenian people to demonstrate greater improvement over what happened last year,” Russin said in an apparent reference to the disputed November 2005 referendum.
The U.S. government strongly criticized the referendum and previous Armenian elections that were marred by serious fraud reported by local and international observers.
(Photolur photo: Godfrey, right, and Russin speak at a joint news conference.)