US Deputy Secretary of State visits Georgia
By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, February 25US Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg paid a one-day visit to Georgia in the frames of his tour to Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Albania and Bosnia on February 23-26. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip H.Gordon accompanied him during his visit to Georgia. Steinberg met the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, the National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria and the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze yesterday.
According to the President’s administration, the sides discussed a “wide range” of issues related to cooperation between Georgia and the US, including regional security. Steinberg and Saakashvili stressed the importance of the US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Charter and expressed their commitment to “deepening” the relations between Tbilisi and Washington, the administration reported.
Earlier on February 24, he held a meeting with civil society representatives in Tbilisi. According to the participants of the meeting the sides discussed the issues of court system in Georgia, as well as media developments in the country and election legislation. Chairman of the Young Lawyer’s Association, Tamar Chugoshvili said after the meeting that the Georgian civil society representatives received support from Steinberg. “We are grateful for the US government for such support. Their position was that they support civil society in Georgia as well as the activities of the NGOs in the country,” Chugoshvili noted.
The Georgian Public Defender Giogi Tughushi, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, said he informed the US Deputy Secretary of State about the situation in terms of the human rights record in Georgia and about all issues that need an “urgent reaction.” “I spoke about the issues which are usually included in Public Defender’s reports, which includes detailed information about the events taking place in penitentiary and court systems. We touched upon the issue of the activities of the Ombudsman’s office,” Tughushi noted, adding that the US State Department pays “a lot of attention” to the activities of the civil society and its relations with the country’s government. It was announced that Steinberg would hold a press conference before leaving Georgia for Azerbaijan, however later the event was cancelled.
Meanwhile the US Ambassador John Bass officially launched a major new US Government assistance programme in Georgia, aimed at strengthening the judiciary, improving law practice and enhancing the quality of legal education in the country. The Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project is a four-year USD 19.3 million program. According to the US Embassy in Georgia, it focuses on areas critical to justice: judicial institutions, civil society support, legal education and commercial law. The US Embassy said the project aims to support judicial independence and continue the momentum for the democratically-based legal reform. According to the Embassy statement, it will involve both the judiciary and civil society groups to help move the reform agenda forward.