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Washington pledges to be “very committed” to “strong relations” with Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, February 21
USA is “very committed” to “very strong relations” with Georgia, the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on February 17 at the meeting with the Georgian FM. The meeting took place in the frames of Grigol Vashadze’s two-day visit to the US. After an hour-long closed meeting Vashadze told journalists that the sides discussed a wide range of issues, including US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Charter, Georgia’s participation in Afghan peacekeeping mission and the situation involving the country’s occupied territories. Vashadze named Georgia’s “accelerated drive towards NATO” as one of the main subjects discussed at the meeting with the US State Secretary. The Georgian Foreign Minister said he informed Secretary Clinton about the “increased Russian military presence” in breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Later, on February 18, Vashadze gave a speech at the conference dedicated to US policy towards the South Caucasus and the Caspian region. The Georgian Foreign Minister said Tbilisi has achieved “impressive results” in terms of relations with its neighbours, except Russia. “Georgia is close to the point when it will have eliminated any kinds of problems with its neighbouring states,” Vashadze noted, adding that “pressure from Russia has taught Tbilisi to find friends far away as well.” “We never wanted to go far and never thought we would be working with Africa, Latin America and Asia, however after 2008 we starting working in this direction and I am grateful to my Russian teachers for this,” the Minister said.

Vashadze commented on the widely debated issue of Georgia’s visa free regime with the North Caucasus states, saying that since the simplification of visa procedures, no criminal act had been perpetrated by the citizens who have arrived from the North Caucasus to Georgia. “Georgia is carefully watching the developments taking place in the North Caucasus,” the Foreign Minister said, adding that about 900 cars cross Georgia’s northern border daily.

Vashadze’s comments come after the statement of the US National Intelligence Director James Clapper that along with Russia’s military presence in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the steps made by the Georgian side in terms of North Caucasus states have contributed to a tense situation in the region. “Moscow's continued military presence in and political-economic ties to Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, combined with Georgia's dissatisfaction with the status quo, account for some of the tensions. Georgia's public efforts to engage with various ethnic groups in the Russian North Caucasus have also contributed to these tensions,” Clapper said on February 16.

According to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Decree of October 11, starting from October 13 residents of the following subjects of the Russian Federation – Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Dagestan, Kabardo-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkezia and the Adige Republics are able to enter Georgia without obtaining a visa. The Georgian Foreign Ministry cited “technical barriers” at the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border crossing as one reason for the decision. In particular citizens wanting to enter Georgia through Larsi had to get visas in Moscow since no visas were issued at the Larsi border. Moscow assessed the move as a “provocation” and an act of “propaganda.”

After the visit to the US, the Georgian Foreign Minister headed to Qatar on a 2-day official visit.