Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian discussed his reform agenda with Vice President Joe Biden and sought greater U.S. economic assistance to Armenia as he ended a working visit to the United States late on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. State Department official dealing with human rights issues held talks with Armenian government officials, lawmakers and civic activists in Yerevan on Friday.
An Armenian government statement said Sarkisian and Biden met in the White House to discuss “prospects for the development of Armenian-American bilateral relations.” It said they also spoke about “the course of the plan of reforms implemented by the Armenian government.”
The statement gave no further details. The White House issued no statements on the meeting.
Sarkisian also met in Washington with Daniel Yohannes, the chief executive of a U.S. government corporation managing the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. The MCA is designed to reward countries implementing political and economic reforms with targeted economic assistance.
“The two sides discussed possibilities of Armenia’s participation in the program in the near future,” the government statement said without elaborating.
Armenia already received in 2006 $177 million in MCA funding for the rehabilitation of its rural irrigation networks that was completed in September last year.
U.S. - Daniel Yohannes (L), CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, meets with Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in Washington, 13Dec2012.
The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) managed by Yohannes also planned to allocate another $60 million for the reconstruction of the country’s battered rural roads. The MSS scrapped that allocation shortly after a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
Visiting Yerevan last year, Yohannes said Armenia no longer qualifies for MCA aid because it does not meet Washington’s minimum requirements on democracy and good governance. “I think they [Armenian leaders] all understand areas that they need to work,” he said.
Other U.S. officials indicated that the next parliamentary and presidential elections will be an opportunity to make Armenia again eligible for MCA assistance. The legislative polls held in May 2012 were praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Visiting Yerevan in June, Clinton urged the Armenian authorities to “ensure that the next election is even better.”
As Sarkisian wrapped up his trip to Washington, Thomas Melia, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, began a three-day visit to Armenia which the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said will focus on “human rights issues and democratization.” Melia met with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, pro-government and opposition politicians as well as civil society representatives on Friday.
“We had some very good discussions not only with government officials but also civil society, members of parliament from the government and opposition sides,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after the meeting with Nalbandian. “We’ll continue to work with our Armenian friends to strengthen democracy and human rights here.”
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian praised “U.S. support for democratic reforms in Armenia.”