By Emil DanielyanU.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans met with President Robert Kocharian Tuesday to discuss concrete actions that would prove his administration’s stated commitment to democracy which was questioned by the United States in the wake of a recent disputed referendum.
Washington has made it clear that such actions are necessary for the release of additional multimillion-dollar assistance to Armenia under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. A brief statement by Kocharian’s office said the meeting focused on “issues pertaining to financial assistance to be provided to Armenia” under the program launched by President George W. Bush two years ago.
The U.S. embassy in Yerevan was more specific, saying in a separate statement that Evans met Kocharian to “discuss concerns that have arisen in Washington and elsewhere in connection with the November 27 referendum on the constitutional amendments.” “The Ambassador and President Kocharian discussed possible steps that might be taken to reassure the United States that Armenia remains committed to strengthening democratic institutions and to the holding of free and fair elections in 2007 and 2008,” it said.
The statement noted that “ruling justly” is one of the criteria which Armenia and other developing nations eligible for MCA aid must meet. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency managing the scheme, expressed last month concern about serious fraud reported during the Armenian referendum. Its chief executive, John Danilovich, criticized the Armenian authorities’ “lack of transparency and commitment to open and fair elections.”
In a separate letter to Kocharian, Danilovich said Yerevan should take “corrective steps” before it can receive $235.6 million in MCA funds promised by the corporation. He said the authorities should respect Armenian citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly and “access to information from independent media and other sources.” He also called on them to “improve the fairness and transparency of the political and electoral process in Armenia in advance of the 2007-2008 parliamentary and presidential elections.”
It is not clear, however, what specifically the Kocharian administration should do to address U.S. concerns shared by the European Union. U.S. officials have said only that the MCC board will await Yerevan’s response to Danilovich’s letter before meeting to decide how to proceed.
The assistance program, worth nearly one third of Armenia’s 2005 state budget, is based on the Armenian government’s proposals submitted to MCC last spring. Most of the MCA funds, $146 million, would be spent on rebuilding and expanding the country’s battered irrigation networks. Another $67 million would go to pay for capital repairs of about 1,000 kilometers of rural roads that have fallen into disrepair since the Soviet collapse.