Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: I’m very pleased to be able to be part of a conference that is celebrating and reinforcing support for Ukraine and the long friendship between Georgia and Ukraine. It’s more important than ever right now that Georgia and Ukraine stand together against Russia’s aggression. Both countries know what it feels like to be occupied by Russia and any division between Georgia and Ukraine now only serves Russia’s purposes.
Question about Spokesperson Price’s statement
Ambassador Degnan: I am always happy to questions as the U.S. Ambassador here, as the President of the United States’ representative here. I am always willing to answer questions that are relevant to the United States’ work here in Georgia. We are here in Georgia to support the people of Georgia and your aspirations to become fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family. As you heard from Ned Price, Washington is very well-informed about what’s going on here in Georgia: they follow the news here, follow the developments here with great interest because Georgia is an important partner of the United States, and we care very deeply about the success of this country. That is why we have supported Georgia so closely and so broadly across the past 30 years. And I’ve just been out in Svaneti and Samegrello regions, and it was wonderful to see all the people and projects that the United States has helped with over the years: in public health and education, security, economic development. It was a good reminder that the people of Georgia very much want to continue on this path toward Europe, and the United States is very proud to be able to support that. We have for 30 years and we will continue to do so.
Follow up question on Spox statement
Ambassador Degnan: Well, what he said is that this is not the way partners communicate with each other. And I think that’s very important. I’m a diplomat. I represent the people of the United States. I don’t take anything that happens here in my capacity as the Ambassador personally. I represent the people of America and the President of the United States. What Mr. Price said is very true. We need to be respectful. We need to treat each other as the partners that we are. I think that that is where the priorities should be. When there are innuendos and rumors and speculation and comments that are not based in fact, then that can be very confusing for the people of Georgia. I don’t think that that’s very helpful to the dialogue. A much more appropriate approach is to discuss your differences in private. As I said the other day, it is natural that there are going to be disagreements when you have a partnership, when you have a friendship: that’s true, everybody knows that. But the best way to discuss that is to do so privately. And if you have to, then speak publicly, as we have on occasion issued public statements when we have concerns about actions that the government has taken that are not in keeping with best practices, that are not helping Georgia along its path toward the Euro Atlantic future that it’s striving for here. So, I would say that fundamentally, as a diplomat, I would always prefer to engage privately, frankly, but always with respect. And that’s what I think everybody deserves.
Question about Judge Chkhikvadze’s exchange program
Ambassador Degnan: I feel like I’ve answered this question a number of times already, but I will answer it one more time. We do not use our programs to sanction or to punish anyone. Our programs are open to judges, prosecutors, attorneys who are interested in attending, qualified to attend, available to attend, and open to benefiting from these exchanges with their U.S. counterparts and U.S. legal experts. Our work with the judiciary here over the past years has been focused on helping Georgia develop an independent, impartial, transparent judiciary that issues decisions based on the law, based on the evidence presented, and issued in an independent way. It’s very unfortunate to hear that judges are being pressured here, but I can assure you that pressure is not coming from the United States Embassy. I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet with a number of judges here in Georgia, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chair of the High Council of Justice on several occasions. In those meetings, we have discussed the very successful cooperation that the United States has with Georgia in helping Georgia develop a stronger, more independent and transparent judiciary. And this has been very successful work. There is no one at the U.S. Embassy who has tried to influence or pressure any judge or influence the decision of any case. That is simply not the way we operate; it’s not the work that we are doing with the judges. As I said, our work emphasizes the ability to issue clear impartial decisions that are based on the law and based on the evidence presented. I hope that that answers that question.
Question about the verbal attack on EU Ambassador Hartzell
Ambassador Degnan: I was really shocked to hear those comments about Ambassador Hartzell. It is so disrespectful to say of someone who worked so hard for four years for Georgia’s European future. It’s hard to imagine anyone who has done more to help Georgia along its European path over the course of his time here. And I fully support what he tried so hard to help Georgia to do, and others should take responsibility for their own acts and acknowledge the very good work that Ambassador Hartzell did while he was in Georgia. He left a beautiful message to the people in Georgia, he and his wife, about how much he enjoyed his time here. And I think that is the best legacy for Ambassador Hartzell in Georgia.
Question about Kavelashvili rumor of a meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili
Ambassador Degnan: When I was asked about this on Tuesday, I had not read the comment, and I don’t like to comment until I understand the facts, unlike some who like to comment based on innuendo and speculation and rumors. But I can say now that I have not met with Mr. Ivanishvili in quite some time. In every meeting I’ve had with him over the past two and a half years that I have been in Georgia, I have always assured him of the United States’ full support for the people of Georgia and our willingness to work with the government of Georgia for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future for Georgia’s democratic and economic development. In none of those meetings have I ever tried to blackmail Mr. Ivanishvili. I’m a diplomat, so I’m not going to take offense at that, but that is simply not true. And I have to say I wonder a little bit—I’m a little puzzled at why this MP would be making such a claim based on no information, since I don’t know him. And he certainly wasn’t in any of my meetings with Mr. Ivanishvili. So, I’m a little puzzled at his motive for even making this claim.