Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian expressed readiness to “strengthen and expand” Armenia’s relationship with the United States when he congratulated President Donald Trump on U.S. Independence Day on Wednesday.
“The new political and social realities that emerged following the revolution [in Armenia] allow us to upgrade our relations to a qualitatively new level,” he said in a congratulatory message to Trump. “We are ready to do everything possible to strengthen and expand our bilateral relations, based on shared values, mutual respect and an atmosphere of trust.”
Pashinian similarly called for “new impetus to our bilateral cooperation” on Tuesday when he visited the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to personally congratulate Ambassador Richard Mills on America’s national holiday.
Pashinian was congratulated by Trump a week after being elected prime minister on May 8. “I look forward to working with you on the many areas of mutual interest for our two countries, including strengthening trade ties, democratic institutions, and regional security,” read a letter sent by the U.S. president.
In his message to Trump, the 43-year-old premier also praised large-scale U.S. assistance provided to Armenia since independence. “Your support is called-for today more than ever before,” he said, listing the areas of economic development, democracy building, human rights and security.
Pashinian said at another meeting with Mills held on May 18 that he would welcome U.S. assistance to wide-ranging reforms planned by his government. The U.S. envoy reported afterwards ongoing U.S.-Armenian discussions on “how the U.S. government can help the new government.” He specifically mentioned the possibility of renewed U.S. aid to Armenia under Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
Armenia received $177 million in MCA funding for the rehabilitation of its rural irrigation networks a decade ago. Washington froze further MCA aid after a disputed 2008 presidential election that was followed by a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
The administration of former President Serzh Sarkisian tried unsuccessfully to restore Yerevan’s eligibility for the aid scheme in the following years. U.S. officials said, among other things, that it is not doing enough to combat widespread corruption.
According to Pashinian’s press office, the premier also discussed with Mills on Tuesday “ways of attracting more U.S. investments” to Armenia. It did not say whether they spoke in that context about the nearly two-week disruption of operations of the U.S.-based mining company Lydian International, one of the largest foreign investors to have done business in Armenia.
In 2016, Lydian began building gold mining facilities at the massive Amulsar deposit in the country’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province. It claims to have since invested over $300 million in them.
All roads leading to Amulsar have been blocked since June 23 by a group of residents of nearby communities protesting against gold mining operations planned there. They say that the multimillion-dollar project, if implement, would severely damage the local ecosystem. More than 1,400 people working for Lydian, many of them also local residents, have therefore been unable to go to work.
Pashinian has criticized the blockage, while pledging to look into Lydian’s and other mining companies’ compliance with Armenian environmental regulations. But he has so far refrained from ordering police to forcibly unblock the construction site.
Lydian’s senior Armenian executives have warned that the company could eventually sue the Armenian state and seek billions of dollars in damages if it fails to resume its operations at Amulsar. They have said that other Western companies will avoid investing in Armenia if the project is scuttled.
The U.S. Embassy has strongly supported the Amulsar project. Mills argued last year that it has been deemed “fully compliant” with environment protection standards set by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).