NEW YORK (RFE/RL)–An international conference on investment opportunities in Armenia opened in New York late Wednesday with a stronger than expected participation of major Western companies. Hundreds of senior executives flocked to the luxurious Plaza Hotel in Manhattan–in what organizers said was a sign of growing international interest in the country. Some of them could not attend the opening session of the forum for lack of space in the 350-seat conference hall.
The three-day conference is organized by the World Bank and the United States government. It is the first time that the bank is holding such a gathering to promote foreign investment in a single country. The Western donors and the Armenian government see it as a unique opportunity to bring more foreign capital into Armenia’s struggling economy. The importance of the conference for Yerevan is underscored by the presence of President Robert Kocharian at the head of the official Armenian delegation. Kocharian’s address to the participants was read by Minister of Industry and Trade Karen Chshmaritian. The president chose not to speak himself for unknown reasons.
"The promotion of foreign investmen’s in Armenia remains in the priority list of our cooperation with the World Bank," the presidential statement said. "The US-Armenia Task Force pursues similar objectives. The present conference attests to our commitment to this end… I personally–as President of Armenia–and my office stand by you and are ready to address any of your questions and problems regarding your intentions and operations in Armenia."
Kocharian also pledged to address "aggressively" what he described as "strong bureaucratic obstruction and the evil of corruption" impeding economic reform.
The US ambassador to Armenia–Michael Lemmon–said the fact that the conference is "overbooked" is encouraging and testifies to Armenia’s attractiveness to foreign investors.
Representatives of private Armenian firms–desperate to get investmen’s and new markets–are due to submit specific business proposals to potential partners. A total of 22 projects endorsed by the government and the World Bank will be up for consideration.
Also taking part in the New York forum is Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–the chief US negotiator on Nagorno-Karabakh. Cavanaugh and senior diplomats from Russia and France mediated the latest round of Armenian-Azerbaijani talks on ways of ending the Karabakh conflict. His presence highlighted the significance of a peaceful settlement for economic development in Armenia and the impoverished South Caucasus in general.
That significance was acknowledged by the Armenian ambassador in Washington–Arman Kirakosian. "We are now close to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–and we hope that after the settlement Armenia will have more chances to attract investmen’s," the envoy told RFE/RL.