YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–World Bank President James Wolfensohn began a three-day visit to Armenia on Wednesday amid widespread expectations of a government change–following Sunday’s elections–which could lead to a retreat from Yerevan’s policy of economic liberalization.
The Unity bloc–the election winner that favors a greater regulatory role for the state–will likely have a strong representation in what many analysts anticipate to be a new cabinet.
Wolfensohn will discuss with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders the implementation of the Bank’s programs and apparently seek assurances about the continuity of the country’s economic policy–which has largely followed guidelines of Western institutions since 1994.
"I came here to meet my friends here again and find out what is going on," Wolfensohn told reporters on his arrival at the Yerevan airport. "We have very good relationships with this country and I’m looking forward to strengthening them," he said.
The World Bank is Armenia’s leading foreign creditor with more than $500 million in loans made available since 1992. Last December–the Bank announced a new $65 million loan package to Yerevan to finance the government’s 1999 budget deficit. The money was to be released in two equal semi-annual installmen’s. In March–the Bank approved the release of a $53 million loan for the Armenian energy sector.
Wolfensohn is visiting Armenia on the last leg of his tour of the three Transcaucasian states.
He is accompanied by his wife Elaine. Wolfensohn’s entourage also includes executive director of the World Bank Peter Steck–World Bank’s regional director for Armenia and Georgia Judith O’Connor and other officials–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency. The goal of the visit to hold negotiations on the current economic state of Armenia and prospects for economic development. Before arriving in Armenia–Wolfensohn visited Georgia. He did not travel to Azerbaijan because of the illness of Azeri president Haydar Aliyev. Instead–the World Bank president visited Turkey–where he had a series of meetings.
Upon arrival in Armenia–Wolfensohn noted that the discussion of regional programs depends on proposals of the Armenian government. Asked to provide his assessment of implementation of World Bank’s programs in Armenia–Wolfensohn said that he it is his first time in Armenia and that he does not have "prepared answers". He said that he is ready to answer any question–only after becoming acclimated with the situation.