By Emil Danielyan
Senior U.S. government officials opened talks with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on Monday to discuss their expectations of additional economic assistance under Washington’s multimillion-dollar plan to promote economic and political reforms in developing countries around the world.
Armenia is among 16 nations eligible for the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) launched by President George W. Bush in 2002. The aid allocations are to be decided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency handling the scheme.
The corporation’s chief executive, Paul Applegarth, and three of his top advisers began their three-day visit to Armenia with a meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. A statement by Markarian’s office made no mention of specific aid projects which the Armenian government was expected to present to the visiting officials.
Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said on May 18 that the government has already drawn up such proposals. One of his deputies said earlier that Yerevan expects to secure at least $60 million worth of additional U.S. assistance this year alone. Sources told RFE/RL that the U.S. side is prepared to allocate as much as $50 million which would be worth about a tenth of Armenia’s modest annual budget.
Still, a senior State Department official who co-chairs a U.S.-Armenian intergovernmental “task force” with Khachatrian cautioned earlier this month that the aid allocation is not a forgone conclusion. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said it will depend not only on the quality of the proposals but also on the improvement of the Armenian authorities’ human and civil rights record which he said has deteriorated in recent months. “The expectation, in order to be able to move forward with the program, is that there would be progress on these issues and not movement backwards,” he told a news conference in Yerevan.
A statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Yerevan on Monday cited Applegarth as saying that it is also essential for the aid proposals to be the result of “wide discussions” and consensus among various strata of Armenian society.