Armenian Minister Blames Media for WTO Controversy

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Singling out RFE/RL–Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian on Thursday accused the media of distorting his controversial commen’s last week on US position on Armenia’s admission into the World Trade Organization . He denied saying that the United States has delayed Yerevan’s accession to the WTO by insisting on simultaneous membership of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"I said that there was such talk–but not during that meeting [of the US-Armenia Task Force held in Washington late last month]," Khachatrian said in a special statement to the media. "America is not the only WTO member; there are also more than 140 other states."

"I have never said that during that meeting the American side impeded [Armenia’s membership]. What I said was that–on the contrary–the American side expressed its readiness to support us on all of the issues we raised. They have supported our membership in the WTO right from the beginning," he said.

However–Khachatrian’s October 3 remarks suggest the opposite. Briefing reporters on the results of the Task Force meeting–he did state that Armenia will not become a WTO member this month–as the government had predicted earlier–because of additional deman’s made by the Americans. Khachatrian–who headed the Armenian delegation in Washington–clearly indicated that US officials did not want to let Armenia join the WTO ahead of its arch-rival Azerbaijan.

He said: "It is unacceptable to link economic developmen’s of one country to those of another country. The more so–if that country decides–all of a sudden–not to become a member or does not meet those requiremen’s. These argumen’s seemed to be accepted [by US officials]–and that problem should be solved. At least–they promised to drop their objections by next December."

The US embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday denied that Washington is linking Armenia’s long-running membership bid to Azerbaijan’s. The embassy told RFE/RL that the US government remains committed to helping Armenia complete its membership talks as quickly as possible.

This position has also been reaffirmed by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who has promised to make Armenia’s accession to the WTO an "administration priority" in a letter to US lawmakers. "To that end–we are working with other WTO members to complete–by the end of this year–negotiations with Armenia for its accession to the WTO," Reuters quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

Khachatrian’s denial suggests that US officials demanded an explanation from Yerevan.

The minister–who is often straightforward and flamboyant in his public pronouncemen’s–provoked a major controversy last December when he lashed out at the International Monetary Fund over its decision to freeze its promised loans to Armenia. His unusually strong verbal attack drew a sharp response from some Western donors.

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