The United States and Armenia will likely sign a framework agreement on bilateral trade and investments during President Serzh Sarkisian’s visit to Washington this week, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday.
“We are very pleased that progress is being made towards the signing of the agreement,” Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, told a news conference. He said the deal will result in “more opportunities for trade and business” between the two countries.
The Armenian government formally approved the deal but gave few of its details last Thursday. Government officials said only that it envisages the creation of a U.S.-Armenian intergovernmental body that will seek to identify and eliminate obstacles to closer commercial ties. Many of them stem from Armenia’s flawed business environment.
U.S. officials have long described those problems as a key hurdle to greater U.S. investments in the Armenian economy.
According to Armenian government statistics, the U.S. accounted for less than 4 percent of Armenia’s foreign trade last year. The total volume of bilateral commercial exchange fell by 2.5 percent to $221 million.
Mills spoke to journalists in Yerevan as Sarkisian flew to Washington for what his office called a “working visit” that will involve “meetings in the U.S. Senate” and talks with James Warlick, the chief U.S. negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
The statement released by the office late on Monday said that during the three-day trip Sarkisian will also meet leaders of the Armenian-American community, visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and attend an ecumenical service at the National Cathedral in Washington dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
The statement announced no meetings planned between Sarkisian and U.S. President Barack Obama or any senior member of his administration.
“I can assure you that the relationship between Armenia and the United States is very strong,” said Mills. “President Obama thinks this relationship is very important,” added the envoy.
Obama’s first and, so far, only meeting with Sarkisian took place in 2010 on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in Washington. He praised at the time the Armenian leader’s “courageous” policy of rapprochement with Turkey.
That policy seems to be one reason why the Obama administration has generally been supportive of the current Armenian government. Both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Sarkisian on his disputed reelection in 2013.
Sarkisian received no congratulatory message from Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, when he became president in 2008 in an election that was also denounced as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.
“We care deeply about Armenia’s ability to grow stronger, more prosperous, more independent, and to represent a strong democratic image in this part of the world,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said during a February 18 trip to Yerevan.
Nuland’s deputy, Eric Rubin, stated earlier in February that Armenia has made major progress in democratizing its political system and improving its human rights record in the last several years.