Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: I’m really delighted to be back in Samtskhe-Javakheti. I was here about a year ago, and since then I’ve been touring other parts of Georgia as part of our commemoration of 30 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Georgia. Today, I had a chance to meet with the students at the Dviri Public School, and hear about their English Access language classes, and their close partnership with Peace Corps. They’ve had several Peace Corps volunteers, and it’s obviously been a wonderful partnership over the years. We’re excited that our Peace Corps volunteers are going to be coming back next year. I was also at the American Corner here in Akhaltsikhe, meeting with some students and hearing about the books that they love to read. It’s their Book Buddies Club, and they were all incredible readers in English. We talked about the different books that they love to read and they gave some good recommendations of books for me to read. Now we’re here at this veterinary lab that is been in close partnership with NCDC and United States agencies in support of public health efforts. I think COVID-19 showed us just how important disease control and diagnostic capabilities are. All those PCR tests that we did to try and control COVID-19 here in Georgia were done at labs like these in the regions. It’s very important work and the United States has been very pleased to be able to partner with Georgia’s NCDC and labs like these. The dedicated professionals here are doing so much to protect Georgian citizens’ health, and also to take care of the animals here in this region, where there are a lot of cattle and sheep and pigs, chickens, and other animals. It’s really important to have labs like these to do veterinary control for the disease. I’m off next to meet with a civil society group that works on human rights protections in the region, and then we’re going to the Great Synagogue, which is one of Europe’s oldest synagogues—not just in Georgia, but one of Europe’s oldest synagogues. So I’m looking forward to seeing the wonderful diversity of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. I have two more full days to meet with so many great Georgians. Everywhere I go in Georgia, I’m meeting with wonderful Georgians who have been our partners over the last 30 years, and I’m very pleased that they want more cooperation with the United States. They want to continue this partnership that has been so rich for both of our countries. So I’m really looking forward to the next two days.
Question about Arestovych’s rhetoric feeding second front narratives
Ambassador Degnan: Well, I don’t want to speak on behalf of Mr. Arestovych, a member of the Ukrainian government. From the United States’ point of view, we have very consistently and clearly supported Georgia’s aspirations for a European future. This is the clear desire and preference of the people of Georgia to become part of the European Union, to become part of NATO. The United States has been very pleased to support efforts that are required to achieve that. There is a real opportunity now for Georgia, with candidate status very close at hand, if the leaders and the people can come together to make the reforms that are necessary to fulfill the 12 priorities. This needs to be a broad and inclusive process that includes civil society, that includes the opposition, that includes other stakeholders. I think that is really the measure of Georgia’s readiness, and we all are watching to see if Georgia’s leaders can do what is necessary to achieve this goal. That is the clear will of the Georgian people: to become fully integrated into the European family of nations, to obtain the next very important step on that path, which is candidate status.
Follow up on the question
Ambassador Degnan: I think anything that is dividing Georgia and Ukraine is only benefiting Russia. Russia is the only one that benefits when Georgia and Ukraine are arguing with each other. This is really the time to come together. These are two countries that have both been invaded by Russia. These are two countries that have had their sovereignty threatened by Russian aggression. This is the time to come together and push back in whatever way possible to demonstrate that Georgia’s territorial integrity and Georgia’s sovereignty are safe and preserved. The United States has long been and will continue to be, a steadfast supporter of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that is what we want to see preserved here.
Question about recent elections to the High Council of Justice
Ambassador Degnan: Well, that’s an assessment that the European Commission will make, but as you say, judicial reform is one of the 12 priorities. It is not only in the list of 12 recommendations, it’s in the Association Agreement that Georgia has with the European Union. This is clearly a very important area for any democracy. It’s very important to have an independent, truly impartial judiciary to protect your democracy. The process of judicial reform needs to be a broad and inclusive one. That includes civil society, that includes the opposition, and stakeholders who have an interest in it, and also very good ideas about how to improve Georgia’s judiciary. Everywhere I’ve been on my trips around Georgia, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with judges in regional courts and hearing about the very important work that they’re doing. I can say that there are many very dedicated professionals who are working very hard to administer the law according to the evidence that is presented, and without any kind of interference. This is very hard work, and I would hope that the judicial reform that is undertaken addresses some of the real challenges facing the courts here, which include very heavy workloads. It is important to be sure that the citizens of Georgia receive the kind of judicial support and see their judiciary in action in a way that truly supports this democracy and the citizens in it.
Question about Georgia’s role as a regional mediator
Ambassador Degnan: It’s always a very positive thing when the leaders of the countries in the South Caucasus come together to work on issues that are important for all three countries. Georgia has often played that role of mediator. I remember about a year or so ago, Georgia helped Armenia and Azerbaijan agree on some very important steps following the conflict that resulted in the release of some detainees. So there are already instances where Georgia has successfully played the role of mediator. There are so many issues facing the region, whether it’s water or energy or the economy, where the three countries working together can really improve the situation for their people. So, it’s a very positive and encouraging sign to have President Aliyev here and to have Prime Minister Pashinyan, when he and his officials come. Georgia is the place that brings people together, and I think that’s been true throughout Georgia’s history. We see it again now.