By Armen Zakarian
The United States spoke of its “long-term commitment” to close relations with Armenia on Friday as it officially opened a new embassy complex in Yerevan, one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.
The sprawling compound, which will house the U.S. embassy and the local office of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was inaugurated in the presence of President Robert Kocharian and members of Armenia’s government.
“Even those who may see only the outside of this beautiful building should view it as symbolizing both the importance my government attaches to its relationship with Armenia and our long-term commitment to those relations,” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans said in his speech at the ceremony.
“I think that this building is an investment in Armenia’s future,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said for his part.
Work on the facility occupying 90,000 square meters of land on the southern outskirts of Yerevan began about four years ago and, according to U.S. embassy officials, has cost $76 million. The U.S. government, by comparison, has spent $40 million on its new embassy in Ukraine, a country much bigger and populous than Armenia.
“The main reason [for the large scale of the project] is that we simply needed more room to do our work and receive our visitors,” Evans said. He also cited the need to ensure “the physical safety of our employees and security in a world threatened by terrorism.”
The U.S. embassy was previously located in a building in downtown Yerevan that belonged to the Armenian Communist Party until the Soviet collapse. The deputy chief of the mission, Anthony Godfrey, told reporters that it will be sold to the highest bidder.
Godfrey also said that $18 million of the sum spent on the construction was effectively invested in the Armenian economy, translating into nearly 600 jobs and contracts with local construction firms and suppliers.
“The United States deeply values its friendship with Armenia,” Evans said. “Our countries are bound together by a long and unique history.
“Since the Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991 we have worked together to create democratic institutions and a market economy. That work will continue and the ties between our two nations will inevitably grow.”