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Rice said Armenia must improve the conduct of its elections (epa)
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian participated on March 27 in a signing ceremony for the $235.65 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact for Armenia in Washington. The U.S. development agency approved the money in December to help reduce rural poverty. However, the signing and disbursal of the money was delayed pending a demonstration by Armenia of its commitment to strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring fair elections in 2007-08.
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- "The compact we are signing today will directly improve the lives of 750,000 Armenians, three-quarters of the country's rural population," Condoleezza Rice said at the ceremony.
"Over the next five years, Armenians will build almost 1,000 kilometers of rural roads," she continued. "They will upgrade their irrigation and drainage systems. They will plant new crops and through all of this the United States will provide Armenia with the technical assistance and credit support that it urgently needs."
Money Contingent On Reforms
The money from the MCC will be disbursed over a five-year period and will be contingent on Armenia's policy performance in three areas: "ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom." More specifically, Rice said that the United States expects Armenia to deliver on its pledges to improve the conduct of national elections.
"Armenia must continue to advance its democratic reforms," she said. "International and domestic monitors did express concerns about the conduct of the recent constitutional referendum. And the Armenian government has acknowledged these difficulties and pledged to improve the conduct of the elections to be held in 2007 and 2008."
Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian agreed. "The elections of 2007 and 2008 that you refer to will test our democratic practices," he said. "Our task until then is to partner with the United States and European governments to implement the necessary corrective steps."
According to Oskanian, Armenia has already begun the process of verifying voters' lists and is making progress in reforming its election law in parliament.
Can Armenia Stay On Straight And Narrow?
The Millennium Challenge Corporation was established in January 2004 to give money to poor countries that have sound political, economic, and social policies. Early this year, MCC CEO John Danilovich pledged that funding once granted can be taken away. He said that the corporation in the future "will not hesitate to say 'no' or 'no more' to a country."
Richard Giragosian, a Washington-based independent analyst, is skeptical that Armenia will suffer any financial repercussions in future regardless of how the future elections are conducted. He told RFE/RL that the U.S. government has delivered consistent warnings, citing the recent visits of the Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza to Yerevan.
But, according to Giragosian, "the feeling is that the Armenians have not really learned any lessons from past electoral violations and are still likely to resort to their habitual ballot rigging." The key question, he said, is one of degree, that is, how blatant will the vote rigging and other types of election fraud be in practice.