YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–US Ambassador to Armenia Peter Tomsen–who is completing his 3-year diplomatic assignment in Armenia–gave his last news conference on August 20.
Noting Armenia’s progress in the matter of establishing democracy–Tomsen praised the achievemen’s of the Armenian media. He–in particular–mentioned an unsuccessful attempt of the Armenian government to change the editorial board of the "Azg" newspaper–which–according to him–was a turning point for the Armenian media.
According to Tomsen–from 1992 to the present–the US has provided a total of just over $1 billion in assistance to Armenia. Over $750 million of that assistance was in humanitarian aid–he said. The US Ambassador said that he was content with the process of economic reforms being implemented in Armenia.
Tomsen stressed that customs in Armenia were the largest obstacle to Armenian business growth. According to him the customs in Armenia are under heavy pressure to provide more revenue to the budget. Tomsen noted that according to a recent written survey of freight forwarders conducted by questionnaires–54 percent of shipmen’s to Armenia involved paying bribes to Armenian customs officials–while 31 percent of shipmen’s required bribes to railway officials. He went on saying that during the survey it took an average of 45 hours at the border to transit goods from one country to another of no bribe was paid and 19 hours if the bribe was paid. Because of the corruption and inefficiency at customs and railroads–it took an average of about four days for a train to go between Poti and Yerevan.
The US Ambassador praised the Armenian government’s decision to ease the tax burden. He also stressed the importance of a dialogue between the government and businessmen as new laws are being developed.
Ambassador Tomsen said that the United States is very disappointed by the lack of any real dialogue between the parties to the Karabakh conflict for over eight months. He said that Armenia cannot realize sustained–robust economic growth unless there is a solution to the Karabakh dispute. He said that all parties are to blame for the fact that negotiations have been deadlocked. Tomsen stressed his country’s and OSCE’s stance on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. He said that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group are sure that an acceptable solution may be found and that the parties must hold talks over the degree of Karabakh’s autonomy. The US Ambassador stressed the necessity of ensuring safety of Armenia’s–who have been living on their territory for 2-3 thousand years.