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Secretary Clinton reiterates US support for Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, October 8
The United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, is committed to Georgia’s aspirations for membership of NATO and continues to call on Russia to end its occupation of Georgian territory, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton said in her opening remarks at the US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission meeting in Washington on October 6.

The relationship between Georgia and the US stands on a foundation of “shared values and common interest”, Clinton stated, adding that the Charter signed in January 2009 has “given us a framework for further developing our cooperation.” “I want to reiterate our commitment to working together to advance Georgia’s security and democracy. The US will not waver in its support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she noted, adding that it is a “core principle” of the charter on Strategic Partnership.

The US Secretary of State reiterated Washington’s commitment to Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations. “We strongly support Georgia’s efforts related to its Annual National Program, which promotes defense reform and guides cooperation with NATO,” she said. “And we continue to support Georgia’s efforts on defense reform and improving defense capabilities, including NATO inter-operability and Georgia’s contributions to ISAF operations in Afghanistan,” Clinton said, also expressing her condolences over the death of four Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan last week.

The United States continues to call on Russia to end its occupation of Georgian territory, withdraw its forces and abide by its other commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreements, Secretary Clinton stated, adding that Georgia has taken “constructive approach in our common efforts to address this challenge through the talks in Geneva.” “We support the objectives of Georgia’s State Strategy on Occupied Territories, and we are prepared to undertake activities that reinforce these important objectives,” she said.

Hilary Clinton said that the US will continue to work to strengthen Georgian democracy. She named free elections, sound institutions and a vibrant civil society as “prerequisites” for the long-term stability and legitimacy of any government. “That’s true in the United States and it’s true in Georgia,” the Secretary of State said, adding that democracy in Georgia has made “great strides” over the last seven years. “The conduct of the municipal elections this May represented real tangible progress. But there is still a lot of work ahead to address issues of political competition, fundraising, and accountability, including a thorough investigation of any alleged irregularities in May’s elections,” she added.

The US Secretary of State recommended to the Georgian authorities that Georgia’s Parliamentary Elections in 2012 and the Presidential Elections in 2013 should “showcase a Georgian democracy that not only meets, but exceeds international standards.” She praised the Georgian government for the progress that Georgia has made against corruption, saying that it is “already serving as a role model for many other countries to replicate the success that Georgia has had.”

Secretary Clinton named Constitutional reform as the “most obvious and most important” reform challenge facing Georgia. “It represents the opportunity for Georgians to build on everything you have accomplished since the Rose Revolution,” she said “I hope that the Parliament will recognise that opportunity as it concludes its consideration of the constitutional reform package. The US supports the recommendations that the Venice Commission has put forward for strengthening Georgia’s system of checks and balances,” she noted, adding that “we stand ready to assist in this process however we can.”

US Secretary of State stressed that the US supports the Georgian people in their aspirations to build a better future. “And we appreciate this opportunity to strengthen that close relationship at many levels in both of our governments to build relationships among people, not just between governments,” she stated “and to support the kind of changes that are occurring in Georgia that we, in turn, can then trumpet to our own people here, including investors who we would urge to take a close look at Georgia and others in our country who are standing by and urging on and cheering for the changes that Georgia is making and the role model that you are becoming,” Clinton added.

Georgian officials have assessed Hilary Clinton’s statements as an “unprecedented” support of the US towards Georgia. Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili thanked the US Secretary of State for “yet another demonstration of support.” Saakashvili’s press spokesperson, Manana Manjgaladze conveyed the President’s gratitude at a press conference on Thursday, evaluating Hilary Clinton’s remarks as “very important.”

Georgia’s Prime Minister, Nika Gilauri, who was present at the meeting as a co-chair of the commission, said after the Strategic Partnership Charter meeting that Secretary Clinton’s address was a “good example of economic and political support.” Georgia’s Ambassador to US, Batu Kutelia noted that the synchronisation of the Georgian and the US positions in terms of Georgia’s NATO and Euro Atlantic structures integration ahead of NATO Lisbon Summit is “very important.”

Meanwhile, some opposition politicians suggested that the US supports not specific governments, but democratic states in general. MP from the Christian-Democratic Movement, Giorgi Akhvlediani said that now the Georgian ruling administration has a “clear choice.” “Either they will have to take specific messages of Hilary Clinton, or continue their way towards authoritarianism. We have seen once more, that the US supports not specific governments, but democratic states. The government should realise that Georgia’s main partner wants the elections in 2012 and 2013 to be held in accordance to international standards,” he said.

Some analysts in Tbilisi suggest that the statements of the US Secretary of State about Washington’s support of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, Tbilisi’s NATO aspirations and its call for Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgian territories were not a surprise. “Secretary Clinton’s emphasis on economic cooperation between Georgia and the US was one of the most important points in my opinion,” analyst Nika Chitadze told The Messenger, adding that “developing mutual trade relations between the two countries and increasing the export of Georgian products to US is very important.”