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Potential topics for the Obama-Saakashvili meeting

By Messenger Staff
Monday, January 23
News of the scheduled meeting between American president Barack Obama and Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili has created agitation here in Georgia. This summit has been long dreamed of by the Saakashvili administration, in order to demonstrate their continuing close ties with the United States. Reaction in Georgia has varied wildly, although along predictably partisan lines. Pro-government commentators see this as American approval of the Saakashvili administration and its policies, while the opposition insists that Obama intends to instruct Saakashvili on how to hold democratic elections in his country.

Georgian Minister for Reintegration, Eka Tkeshelashvili, has high hopes for their conversation, and considers it a sign of support for both the country and President Saakashvili himself. Georgian officials are emphasizing the importance of the January 30 meeting in light of the coming NATO summit in Chicago, which they anticipate will bring Georgia closer to member status. Georgia recently pledged to increase its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to 1700 persons, thus becoming the largest contributor among non-NATO member countries.

What many Georgians can agree on is that President Saakashvili and his team will use this occasion to further increase his popularity, utilizing it as yet another public relations stunt. While there are speculations about the initiator and purpose of the visit, analyst Paata Zakareishvili sees four reasons for a meeting at this time. First, the US Congress sought to allow American defensive weaponry to be sold to Georgia, but President Obama removed this paragraph from the text of the proposed bill. Second, in the face of the upcoming presidential elections, Obama wants to demonstrate that despite his "reset" policy towards Russia, the US has not distanced itself from its smaller allies. The third issue could be a discussion of Georgia’s position with regards to Iran's nuclear capacity. Finally, Zakareishvili suspects that Saakashvili hopes to influence the coming parliamentary elections in Georgia.

Most analysts are inclined to think that the Georgian elections will be the major topic of discussion between the presidents. Presumably, the Americans support Georgia's efforts to hold fair and transparent elections. The ruling administration hopes to persuade its allies around the world, as well as international organizations and institutions, that the elections will be held democratically. Opposition leaders hope the West will be persuasive enough to ensure that Saakashvili and his team will hold to those ideals. With any luck, the situation will be clarified in one week's time. In the interim, we wonder if anyone is taking bets on the outcome.