US Officials Discuss MCA

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–Senior US government officials opened talks with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on Monday to discuss expectations of economic assistance under Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

Armenia is among 16 nations eligible for the multimillion-dollar plan to promote economic and political reforms in developing countries around the world.

Aid allocations are to be decided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)–a US government agency handling the scheme.

The corporation’s chief executive Paul Applegarth–and three of his top advisers began their three-day visit to Armenia with a meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.

Applegarth also met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to review terms for assistance. Kocharian commented that the program can serve as a tool to assess work already carried out–but said there remains much to do. "This is a good opportunity for the country to improve conditions and create a good basis for further development," the president said.

Parliament speaker Arthur Baghdasarian–who also met with the delegation–said the parliament will take part in formulating the program proposal which will target as priorities–development of sub-structures–promotion of small and medium business in the provinces–housing construction–and implementation of a poverty reduction and anti-corruption programs.

Senior State Department official Carlos Pascual who co-chairs a US-Armenian intergovernmental "task force" cautioned earlier this month that the aid allocation is not a forgone conclusion–but will depend not only on the quality of the proposals but also on the improvement of the Armenian authorities’ human and civil rights record . "The expectation–in order to be able to move forward with the program–is that there would be progress on these issues and not movement backwards," he told a news conference in Yerevan.

A statement issued by the US embassy in Yerevan on Monday cited Applegarth as saying that it is also essential for the aid proposals to be the result of "wide discussions" and consensus among various strata of Armenian society.

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