US Says Ready to Work With New Armenian Leadership

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The US Government is ready to work with the new Armenian leadership, US Charge d’Affairs in Armenia Joseph Penington said Friday during a press conference in Yerevan.
The US diplomat said that President-Elect Serzh Sarkisian’s approaches show that he is ready to take steps needed to put the country back on its democratic path.
Penington said that Armenian President-Elect Serzh Sarkisian’s recent actions and statemen’s show that he is ready to take the steps needed to put Armenia back on the democratic path. The decision to continue the "Millennium Challenge" aid is dependent on Armenia’s democratic development, he explained.
America’s confidence in Sarkisian’s ability to continue the democratic developmen’s in Armenia is the main reason why the US government has not frozen Armenia’s eligibility for Millennium Challenge funding, Penington said.
"We believe that it would be fair to give an opportunity to the new administration of Armenia to correct the situation," he said. If we note that positive steps are being taken and the negative trends are being corrected, it will positively influence the decision of the Millennium Challenge Corporation."
US officials have repeatedly said that the sum’s disbursement is conditional on democratic reform and improved governance in Armenia.
Pennington said the goal is not to slap sanctions on Armenia, but to encourage the government in Yerevan to take action to overcome the aftereffects of the latest developmen’s. The US government, he explained, does not seek to stop funding of projects in Armenia because the beneficiaries are the very segmen’s of the population that need the aid.
But if the Armenian government does not take genuine steps to improve the situation the MCC program will be cancelled, Penington warned.
In a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, the head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation John Danilovich earlier in the month warned that the US government agency managing the program could "suspend or terminate" the five-year aid package because of the post-election developmen’s in Armenia.
No decisions have been made yet to freeze the program, Penington said, adding that the US government is for the continuation of the program.
Asked by reporters to explain why American President George W. Bush did not congratulate Sarkisian, Pennington explained that the US Department of State congratulated the people of Armenia for conducting a competitive election. He said he could not say why there was not official congratulation from the US president.
He said the US embassy received an invitation to take part in Sarkisian’s April 9inauguration ceremony on, but added that the government has not yet decided who to send to Yerevan.
He said the bulk of US aid to Armenia after it regained independence from the former Soviet Union was directed to the strengthening of democracy, ensuring the development of a free press, a vibrant civic society, and a fair electoral system. Progress has been made in all these areas, but there were setbacks as well.
He said people who committed crimes during March 1 unrest must be held accountable, but he denounced the detention of people for their political views. A clear line must be drawn to differentiate between the two, he said.

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