US Armenia Form Economic ‘Task Force’

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–The United States and Armenia on Thursday set up a joint "task force" charged with ensuring better use of American economic aid and facilitating bilateral commercial links–reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

An agreement to that effect was signed in Yerevan by senior officials from the two countries. Armenian Finance Minister Levon Barkhudarian said after the signing ceremony–which was attended by Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan–that it marks an "important stage" in his country’s relations with the US. Ambassador Bill Taylor–who coordinates US aid to former Soviet republics–described the new body as "action-oriented."

The economic task force will comprise officials from both countries. The US will be represented by several government agencies–including the Agency for International Development–Department of Commerce and ExImBank.

Barkhudarian told a joint news conference that apart from coordinating various aid programs–the body is supposed to promote American investmen’s in the struggling Armenian economy. Armenia has been a leading per-capita recipient of US government assistance–having received a total of more than $1 billion since 1991.

Taylor arrived in Yerevan on Wednesday from Baku where he signed a similar document with Azeri leaders. He told premier Sargsyan the same day that the World Bank has backed Washington’s initiative to hold an international conference on economic reconstruction in the Caucasus–according to the government’s press office. The diplomat was quoted as saying that a group of international experts will soon visit the region to assess its economies and present a comprehensive report to Western donor states and finance institutions.

The World Bank is already preparing to participate in "the post-conflict reconstruction" of Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia–a senior Bank official said on Monday.

Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Armen Khachatrian met Wednesday with Taylor who said that the delegation which is on its two-week visit to the region already visited Baku and Tbilisi and the visit to Yerevan will allow the delegation members to form a final idea of the processes going on in the region–in particular–of the current situation of the Karabakh problem–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.

The main goal of the visit is to specify the form and volumes of the US-rendered assistance to the countries of the region for the purpose of establishing peace and stability here. He reported on negotiations with World Bank officials–the UN–and European structures for development and implementation of programs. According to Taylor–the World Bank is ready to organize a conference with the participation of donor-states as soon as Armenia and Azerbaijan sign an agreement on Nagorno Karabakh. A group of international experts will visit the region in the near future and–proceeding from the results of the assistance estimate–will prepare a document to be discussed at the World Bank conference.

Speaker Khachatrian expressed gratitude for the assistance rendered by the United States to the Transcaucasian region. He re-affirmed the Armenian leadership’s firm position on the Karabakh settlement: peaceful political negotiations. Khachatrian stressed the willingness of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as that of the speakers of the two countries’ Parliamen’s to a peaceful settlement of the problem. He expressed confidence that peace and stability in the region are possible to establish only on the basis of a compromise acceptable to all parties to the conflict. Khachatrian stated that economic cooperation between the countries of the region can become a powerful incentive to the settlement process.

Addressing the domestic political situation in Armenia–Khachatrian pointed out that the country has chosen the way of democratic development–and this process is irreversible.

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