Vashadze: Postponing of Bakradze’s visit will affect Georgia-Israeli relations
By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, March 17
The postponing of Georgian Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze’s visit to Israel will affect the relations between the two countries, Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze said on Wednesday. “It will affect the relations as far as the visit, which could move our relations forward, did not happen,” Vashadze told journalists, adding that it is a sovereign right of any state to hold the visit of other country’s officials or not. “This visit has not been cancelled, it is postponed. As for the reasons, I saw six different versions in Israeli media starting with the Israeli speaker’s packed schedule to the negotiations to be launched with Palestine,” Vashadze said.
Israeli press reported about the postponement of Georgian Parliament Speaker’s visit to Israel on March 11, making some links with the arrest of Israeli businessmen in Georgia. According to IsraelNationalNews.com, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin asked his Georgian counterpart to postpone his visit “due to its sensitivity at this time.” Israeli media reported that Rivlin explained to Bakradze that “Israel would prefer to reschedule the visit due to internal and external circumstances which prelude the visit. In addition Rivlin informed Bakradze that the fate of the Israeli prisoner in Georgia, Rony Fuchs is disturbing too many Israelis and that public pressure on the issue led him to understand that the timing was not suitable for an official visit to Israel.”
Israeli businessman Ron Fuchs won a 98.1- million dollar dispute with Georgia in an international arbitration and was arrested together with his associate Zeev Frenkiel last October on charges of offering bribe to Georgia’s deputy finance Minister. The Georgian law enforcers claim, that Fuchs and Frenkiel offered 7 million dollars to the Deputy Minister if the latter would persuade the Georgian authorities not to appeal the decision of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Fuchs and Frenkiel have denied the accusations.
Georgian officials have downplayed the suggestions that the postponement of Bakradze’s visit is linked with the arrest of Israeli businessmen. The head of Georgian Parliament’s press office, Maka Gigauri said the visit was postponed due to two reasons. “Israel is planning launching negotiations with Palestine and at the same time inner political debates should start at Knesset. Because of these reasons the visit of Georgian Parliament Speaker would not receive due attention and thus the visit was postponed,” she said, adding that postponing a visit is a “normal thing in diplomacy.”
Georgian Minister for Reintegration, Eka Tkeshelashvili also downplayed claims that the postponing of the visit is related to the arrest of Israeli businessmen. “There are many cases when the visits are postponed due to incompatibility of schedules. There is nothing unusual about this,” she said. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze also confirmed the position of the Georgian side, reiterating the reasons cited by the Georgian Parliament press office. She said the issue of arresting Israeli businessmen is a criminal case and should not be discussed from a political angle. “We are interested in defending the rights of Israeli citizens on Georgian territory. It is a criminal issue and should not be moved to political format. We have very good relations with Israel,” she said on Monday.
Meanwhile the Georgian opposition group National Council has offered to act as guarantors for the arrested Israeli businessmen. Speaking at a special press conference on Wednesday, the leaders of the National Council Zviad Dzidziguri and Koba Davitashvili called on the Georgian President to “immediately free” the Israeli businessmen, saying that their arrest has caused “serious tension” in Georgia-Israel relations. Dzidziguri suggested that “worsening” relations with Israel may “indirectly affect” the relations between Georgia and US. “This is a serious diplomatic threat for Georgia,” he said. “Georgian citizens have already been damaged by the current situation, because they are experiencing problems receiving Israeli visas and some of them are being expelled from Israel for unknown reasons,” the opposition politician stated.
Earlier on February 24, the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili denied the suggestions that the Israeli businessmen case can damage relations between the two countries, saying that the ties between Georgia and Israel are “excellent overall.”