By Emil Danielyan
A senior U.S. official ended on Friday a three-day visit to Yerevan that focused on continued U.S. economic assistance to Armenia which Washington has threatened to freeze over its government’s post-election election crackdown on the opposition.
Tom Adams, the U.S. assistance coordinator for Europe and Eurasia, met President Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other key members of the Armenian government. The U.S. embassy in Yerevan described the talks as “fruitful.”
“He learned about the status of democracy and human rights issues in Armenia, in light of the post-election political difficulties,” the embassy said in a statement. “He urged Armenian authorities to take prompt action to heal the social divisions that have arisen as a result of the political conflict.”
Adams and Sarkisian specifically discussed the release of $236 million in U.S. economic aid to Armenia promised under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. According to the Armenian president’s press service, Adams said the U.S. government has “concerns” about Yerevan’s fulfillment of “political criteria” tied to the program. He stressed the need for a “thorough investigation” into irregularities that marred Armenia’s recent presidential election and the deadly unrest that followed it.
In a late March letter to Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian, the head of a U.S. government agency managing the MCA, John Danilovich, warned that the five-year aid package could be suspended or terminated altogether if the Armenian authorities continue to crack down on dissent and restrict civil liberties. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza reaffirmed the warning last month, saying that Washington expects “dramatically positive steps” from the new Armenian leader.
In a written statement released late Thursday, the presidential press service gave few details of Sarkisian’s reaction to Adams’s concerns. “The president stressed the need to correctly assess the situation,” it said without elaborating.
The statement also quoted Adams as voicing U.S. support for Sarkisian. “The U.S. administration wants you to succeed,” Adams said. “Washington has high hopes for your presidency and believes that you can be a strong leader and take important steps to move the country forward.”