President Robert Kocharyan's press conference on the occasion of national philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian's visit to Armenia

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One hundred days since my election as President have not yet passed and I had not planned any press conferences. However, I think events which took place in Armenia in the past two days and the visit of our great friend, Armenian-American Kirk Kerkorian, are of such importance that I was obliged to meet with you. Regarding the visit, I will say the following: it is a victory for our people and it will be of great significance for the economic development of the country and its future in general. I must say that I am very impressed with the meetings. We understood each other at once, and I was even a little bit surprised to learn how well-informed Kirk Kerkorian is about the situation in Armenia and how well he understands Armenia's prospects connected with regional developments, (i.e. what must be done and what Armenia's role is in these processes). We have reached the following agreements: The first program, announced last autumn, is the Investment Fund, the purpose of which is to develop Armenia's industry, small- and medium-sized business. We have agreed on the final terms for this Fund and are ready to sign the agreement. We will start with the implementation of the first ten million [from this Fund] and will proceed from there. This is a sum which, invested in our economy, will become a serious stimulus for the development of small- and medium-sized businesses. We have also agreed to slightly change the initial terms which envisaged the provision of loans ranging from $100,000 to $1 million US dollars. We agreed that $1 million dollars is a small sum for the implementation of extensive programs, such as the development of the chemical industry. In similar cases, for extensive programs, we will be in a position to allocate larger amounts of funding. We have no more obstacles concerning this issue and will probably begin implementation in the near future. The second program, which I find very important and which inspires Mr. Kerkorian, is the construction of roads, that is, the construction of "a super highway". This main thoroughfare will allow us to reach the ports of the Black Sea, (i.e. Poti and Batumi), and will create transit opportunities through the territory of Armenia to Georgia, Iran and the Persian Gulf. This is a strategic task, and its solution will create conditions favorable for the development of Armenia's economy, as well as yielding some transit profits. An agreement has been reached to allocate $85 million US dollars for this program, part of which ($35 million) will be spent for the construction of a road linking the Gegharkunik and Zangezur regions. This will shorten the transit road from Armenia to Georgia and Iran by about 50 km. This program has dual significance: it allows us to better pursue our territorial policy and seriously impact on transit possibilities. The remaining $50 million dollars will be allocated for the construction of the northern road--Yerevan-Tbilisi highway, which will promote the development of regional projects with a number of Georgian and international organizations within the frameworks of the well-known TRASECA project. We are convinced that we fill find partners for this issue during negotiationswith international financial organizations and our neighbors, particularly with Georgia. I had a telephone conversation today with Georgian President Shevardnadze; an agreement has already been reached with him. This is an extensive program for Armenia, with broad prospects. We have agreed to begin the program and simultaneously attempt to secure the remaining $50 million dollars, which, added to the other funding, will complete the amount of funding necessary for the implementation of the entire project. The third program refers to the earthquake zone. In connection with the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, $15 million US dollars have been allocated for the rehabilitation of the earthquake zone. A special commission will be founded and, as President, I will immediately supervise all expenditures. We must do our utmost so that the great philanthropist, who is ready to back up Armenia and assist it in solving its most pressing problems, has reciprocal trust in us. The fourth program is connected with advanced technologies. Kirk Kerkorian is ready to help in this issue as well, by using his influence throughout the world, granting financial assistance and assisting in bringing corporations which produce advanced technologies to Armenia. Of course, on our part we must create appropriate conditions for them inside the republic. The issue is to provide special status and tax frameworks for them. It is also necessary to note the truly invaluable and patriotic activities of our great friend during the last few years. You are aware of the United Armenian Fund; the 100th [UAF] flight from the U.S. to Armenia will take place in July, which we will celebrate. That is implemented by the Lincy Foundation. I do not even want to mention specific numbers on the amount of assistance provided to Armenia. However, I must say that the dollar amount of agreements reached during just the last few months is almost $250 million. So, imagine what has been done to date. And the most important thing. Rather than discuss humanitarian programs with Kirk Kerkorian, we discussed far-reaching programs promoting the development of our republic. We are trying to move from sustaining our existence to development programs. This is very important, and I feel that Mr. Kerkorian is particularly encouraged by this approach. We have also agreed that Kirk Kerkorian needs to visit Armenia more frequently. We expect him here again in the near future and will try to collect certain data by his next visit. To quickly implement these programs in Armenia, without any obstacles, we must do everything to eliminate bureaucracy by officials and the state apparatus in connection with these programs. This is important. Our great friend must see a serious partner in the face of the Government of Armenia. And one more issue. I think it will be publicized today. The Armenian Government is ready to invest $10 million dollars in oil prospecting. You are aware that exploration is currently in progress. The reports are quite promising, and there is a strong probability of discovering oil in Armenia. It is precisely this hope and probability that make the investment of an additional $10 million dollars possible. I think this is one of the most important issues for Armenia's future. That's all. On a personal note, I would also like to add that Kirk Kerkorian is a very interesting person.


QUESTION - (Avet Demurian, RIA-news) - Mr. President, is the participation of other Diasporan Armenians in investment programs for the development of Armenia's economy expected?

ANSWER - Yes, it is expected. You are aware that Richard Manoogian was in Armenia a few days ago. It was his first visit. I think this visit of Kirk Kerkorian will become an effective stimulus for many other Diasporan Armenians. Even his name serves as a strong guarantee both for us and our compatriots abroad. Yes, they are planning substantial activities and are interested in Armenia. The most important thing is that we do not create problems within the country for similar investments.

QUESTION - (Konstantin Petrosov, Arka news agency) - Mr. President, You said an agreement on $10 million dollars is to be signed. When can that be expected?

ANSWER - I think the agreement will be signed within a few days. I am not talking specifically about $10 million, but about the clarification of general approaches. One hundred million is quite a large sum, and we must set the guidelines for utilizing this fund. This is not simply money to spend, rather it will enable our economy to "breathe". These funds must continue circulating in our economy. For that reason, there need to be guidelines, which in fact, have already been developed. We have reached a final agreement on them. I expect we will receive the first tranche in the near future.

QUESTION - (Narine Dilbarian, Azg daily) - Who will manage the funds and which organizations will carry out the construction?

ANSWER - We have qualified road-building organizations, and they will carry out the construction. As to the first question: the right to manage these funds will belong to the Government, but not the Government as such. An appropriate commission will be created, which will take upon itself the responsibility [to manage these funds]. It is very important not to lose confidence, and we will do our utmost to insure that this money is spent according to the stated purposes.

QUESTION - (Tigran Liloyan, ITAR-TASS)- Who will be involved in the commission?

ANSWER - Right now, I cannot give any names, but I can say one thing--that this process will be under my supervision. To lose this opportunity or not to take advantage of it is tantamount to committing a crime against the Fatherland.

QUESTION - (Armen Vardanian, Yerkir daily) - What prospects do you foresee for our overseas entrepreneurs to participate in the development of the republic's economy not as creditors, but as property-owners?

ANSWER - We have raised this issue as well. We suggest they own property in Armenia, and not only provide loans. And we already have some examples. There are Diasporan Armenian entrepreneurs who are establishing their own businesses in Armenia and are property-owners. We intend to encourage this process.

QUESTION - (Elina Arzoumanian, Vesty TV program) - What is your evaluation of the cognac factory sale and will you agree to convene an extraordinary session on this issue?

ANSWER - The deal has already been made. I believe that it is one of the best deals we had, and I have no intentions of convening another National Assembly session. The deal has been made, and if some deputies, who, by the way, bear significant responsibility for previous privatization arrangements, intend to raise this issue again, they should put forward the question of nationalization, and not the question of reviewing the deal. If they agree to come to the parliament with such a proposal, then we'll see.

QUESTION - (Lili Martoyan, Hayastany Hanrapetutiun daily) - How would you comment on Boris Berezovskiy's words of assurance during his meeting with Azeri President Heidar Aliyev that Armenia's current authorities removed from the agenda the question of Karabagh's independence or it's re-unification?

ANSWER - This announcement was probably incorrectly interpreted, since our approach to the settlement of the Karabagh issue, if you recall, was stated by the Foreign Minister for the first time during his visit to Germany. We state the following: We do not reject Karabagh's independence. No. We say that today we have serious legal grounds with which to recognize Karabagh's independence or raise the issue of Karabagh's re-unification with Armenia. However, we are not taking these steps, in the hope that the negotiation process will lead to a solution satisfactory to all the parties to the conflict. This was the question, and after discussions, I think Mr. Berezovskiy correctly understood the question. His announcement also reflected this. As to the way the Azeri media commented on his words, that is, of course, not my problem. Our approach is firm, and we declared it about one or one-and-a-half months ago.

QUESTION - (Hasmik Mkrtchian, Reuter) - Please comment on the evaluations of Foreign Minister Oskanian's last statement concerning the settlement of the NKR conflict.

ANSWER - I do not think any "instigating" announcement was made at the press conference. Mr. Oskanian was merely talking about possible developments. Basically, it is necessary to keep in mind the first part of his statement. He said the following: it is necessary to sit and hold serious negotiations on the settlement of the issue. Otherwise, we can accept each statement about oil from Azerbaijan as "instigating." I believe the attention of the press towards Oskanian's announcement was somewhat exaggerated and more than necessary.

QUESTION - (Harutiun Khachatrian, Noyan Tapan news agency) - Mr. President, first, concerning the road construction program, I would like to request you address in more detail how the first stage of the program (i.e. the construction of the road linking Gegharkunik and Siunik) is proceeding. Is it possible to build it solely with the resources provided by Kerkorian? This is my first question, and the second one: can we speak about any achievements connected with Berezovskiy's initiative in relation to the Karabagh issue?

ANSWER - Regarding the first question. If the question refers to the second road program, yes, this sum is enough to link the two regions together and build a good, high quality road. But all these are parts of one general program. And we will continue working on the general program.

As to Berezovskiy's visit, he does not act today as a mediator. Now, he is the CIS Executive Secretary. I understand his interest in conflicts, since they have a certain impact on the current CIS processes. Today, he is studying the situation in depth and trying to better understand the parties to the conflict. There have been no discussions regarding a mediator's role.