Thank you all for coming out tonight. I am delighted to be here because as the American ambassador it is always a pleasure to speak with my fellow American citizens, just as it was to speak to the various groups on my recent Armenian Diaspora tour of the U.S. I have served in Armenia for just over a year now and I must say that my wife, Leigh, and I have been touched by the warm welcome we’ve received from all the Armenian people, as well as the Americans, we’ve encountered in our initial travels.
Prior to taking up my post as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, I had the pleasure of meeting one-on-one with Secretary of State John Kerry. Secretary Kerry emphasized the great importance the Department of State places on assisting American citizens abroad. He conveyed to me that ultimately my tenure as Ambassador would be judged upon how well we as the Embassy were able to assist those American citizens in need.
This assistance can come in many forms, such as helping Americans who lose their passports obtain new emergency passports to get back home. This being an election year, we can also assist our citizens in sending their vote home. Should you be blessed with the addition of a new family member while living here, we can assist in obtaining a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for your new child, which serves as a U.S. government-issued birth certificate.
So that you can more fully understand what the Embassy does on a day-to-day basis, beyond Consular assistance, I would like to share with you my main policy-level priorities upon which we are focused.
My first priority will be to deepen the business and trade relations between our two countries. One of the key areas we’re looking at is the prospect of boosting U.S. direct investment in Armenia. We’re proud that the United States is among the largest foreign direct investors here.
U.S. investment in Armenia got a real boost with ContourGlobal’s acquisition of the Vorotan Hydroelectric Cascade, a 250 million dollar deal that brings to Armenia the technical expertise and management techniques of one of America’s most innovative energy companies. As you know, companies invest where there is predictability and transparency, in everything from taxation to customs regulations to court proceedings. Therefore, the U.S. Embassy will focus its work on helping to create a business environment in which all companies can compete fairly, thus increasing investor confidence.
This is why we are so pleased to have held the first meeting of the Bilateral Trade and Investment Council last November. The Council provides an excellent forum to discuss key trade topics between our two countries.
My second priority, the fight against corruption, is directly related to the necessity of ensuring a level playing field for businesses. Many of you in this room probably have first-hand experience and knowledge about the very real toll that corruption exacts on Armenia. I hear about that toll from potential U.S. business investors and from average Armenians as I travel the country.
It was a common refrain on my recent Armenian diaspora tour in the U.S. When competition among businesses is not fair and when there are powerful interests that have disproportionate economic and political influence, it limits economic growth. The whole economy – indeed the whole country – suffers. Corruption also undermines democracy and rule of law, breeding instability and mistrust in institutions, thus threatening a nation’s national security.
In his 2015 National Security Strategy, President Obama outlines why America – at all levels and in all sectors – is partnering with nations and institutions fighting corruption across the globe. We must work to ensure that private Americans and U.S. businesses that want to invest in Armenia are able to freely do so.
Let me turn now to my third priority–our continuing efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, human rights, and civil society in Armenia.
It was Winston Churchill who famously said, “Democracy is undoubtedly the worst form of government, until compared to all the other options.” As you all know and likely agree: the U.S. government firmly believes that democracy, for all its faults, is worth the work it requires because democracy is rooted in the will of the people, and therefore does a better job than any other form of government of respecting the rights and opinions of individuals, of solving problems peacefully, and of building prosperity.
And one of the necessary ingredients in a functioning democracy is a strong and independent civil society. This explains why the U.S. Government and Embassy place so much emphasis on strengthening the rule of law, human rights, civil society development, and the empowerment – including civic and political participation – of women, individuals with disabilities, and minority populations. Rest assured, that emphasis will continue.
My last priority is an endeavor that you can directly assist us with. We Americans need to do a better job of explaining U.S. policies, not only our bilateral policies and shared goals with Armenia, but towards the world in general. Many Armenians I’ve spoken with tell me that they do not understand broader U.S. foreign policy and that it is difficult to find opportunities to hear the official U.S. message. To me, that means that I and the Embassy need to communicate those messages more clearly.
We have started pursuing various avenues for explaining U.S. policy goals to different audiences, both by me and by members of my Embassy staff. Part of that comes through town halls like these, so that our own citizens have a better understanding of where our government stands in relation to a particular issue. And as American citizens living in Armenia, you can help amplify our efforts. I’m not asking you to be foreign policy experts, but whenever you hear some outlandish rumor about the U.S., I hope you can help dispel it by stating the facts of the matter, diplomatically of course.
There are tools that I can recommend you check out if you want to know the latest USG views on issues and current developments. The Embassy’s Facebook page and website contain links to the latest press statements from the Department of State – and the Daily Press Briefing – a well as the Embassy’s latest press releases. http://www.state.gov has easily searchable headings from specific regions to topics like human rights that you can search for points and background on various issues.
Now that I have given you a broad overview of my priorities here, I want to re-emphasize the very real and overarching importance we place on assisting our fellow American citizens in Armenia. If any of you should have any problems or seek any specific American Citizen Services while you are here, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Armenia is a wonderful country that is achieving great things and I am honored to be serving as your ambassador here. At this point I will turn the stage over to my consular colleagues who will be able to further address the breadth of American Citizen Services we can provide. Thank you all for your attentiveness and for attending our Town Hall this evening. I wish you all the very best during your time here in Armenia.