YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and obstacles to closer U.S.-Armenian commercial ties with Armenian government officials and parliamentarians during a visit to Yerevan on Tuesday.
The congressional delegation met with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, parliament speaker Ara Babloyan and several other Armenian lawmakers representing different political parties. The delegation comprised three of the four co-chairs of the Congressional Caucasus on Armenian Issues: Frank Pallone, Jackie Speier and David Valadao.
The unresolved Karabakh dispute was high on the agenda of the meetings, with Karapetian and Babloayn praising U.S. mediation of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. Both sides agreed on the need for the conflict’s peaceful resolution.
Anna Eshoo, another member of the U.S. delegation, said she and her colleagues stressed the importance of a Karabakh settlement for Armenia’s economic development. “I think that the future of Armenia very much rests on a peaceful resolution,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Eshoo insisted that a compromise solution to the conflict is possible despite the current deadlock in the negotiation process. “I think that we need to be optimistic,” said the California Democrat.
Most of the visiting lawmakers have strongly supported direct U.S. economic assistance to Karabakh provided for almost two decades. Some of that aid has been spent on humanitarian demining operations conducted by the HALO Trust, a British charity. As recently as two weeks ago the House of Representatives approved $1.5 million in fresh funding for such activities.
Valadao, who represents another California constituency home to many Armenian Americans, travelled to Karabakh on Monday to inspect the HALO Trust’s mine-clearing activities. He said in Yerevan that he is not worried about being blacklisted by Azerbaijan for visiting the Armenian-populated territory without Baku’s permission.
“That’s their choice to make those types of decisions,” the Republican congressman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I can’t worry about that.”
The U.S. lawmakers also spoke with their Armenian colleagues about ways of boosting U.S. investments in Armenia. Eshoo said they stressed the importance of combatting government corruption in the country. “[Corruption] is anathema to American companies,” she said.
“They listened very carefully,” the congresswoman said of the Armenian parliamentarians. “I think it’s important that friends always tell friends the truth.”
The meeting with Karapetian also touched upon prospects for signing a U.S.-Armenian agreement on the avoidance of double taxation.
An Armenian deputy minister for transport and communications, Boris Demirkhanian, said such an agreement is especially important for Armenia’s burgeoning information technology (IT) sector when he spoke at the American delegation’s separate meeting with local tech executives. The visiting legislators were briefed on strong U.S. presence in the sector, according to a statement by the Armenian Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology.
The sector has expanded by an average of over 20 percent annually in the past decade. It is dominated by the Armenian branches of U.S. tech giants like as Synopsys, National Instruments, Mentor Graphics and VMware.