On February 15 Ambassador Kelly joined Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania, State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Paata Zakareishvili, and leaders from numerous religious denominations at a presentation by the State Agency for Religious Issues Chairman Zaza Vashakmadze on his organization’s activities for 2015.
Ambassador Kelly’s comments to media at the event
Question about the importance of the report of State Agency for Religious Issues
Ambassador Kelly: “I think it is a very important event. I think that Georgia has been admired for a long time for its tolerance of different religions. I remember the first day I was here I went and stood up at Metekhi church, looked out and saw several churches, a mosque, and a synagogue – and I thought, ‘This is Georgia.’ “
Question about recent developments around Maestro TV
Ambassador Kelly: “As I have said on several occasions, we are following the case very closely – because as I have said, we really want Georgian democracy to succeed. And in order to succeed, of course it needs to have free and fair elections. It needs a level playing field when it comes to the media, access for all political parties to the airwaves.”
Question about a visa-free regime with Iran and its importance for Georgia’s economy
Ambassador Kelly: “We have made our position quite clear to the Georgia government: this is a sovereign decision, of course, of the Georgian government now that second party sanctions against Iran have been lifted. I think that the Georgian government is also very much aware of the need to balance security concerns with the need – as you point out – for more money for Georgian tourism. I think it will be good for Iranians to see what kind of progress Georgia has made in creating participatory, accountable government.”
Question about the state of domestic violence in Georgia
Ambassador Kelly: “Domestic violence is something that I think every country has concerns about. I think that what is important is that there be safe havens for family members who feel threatened, that family members who are threatened have access to health care, to justice, and to creating a safe environment for their families. I know that this is something that Georgia is struggling with, and of course we are ready to help with any kind of assistance that Georgia might require in creating a more nurturing, safe environment for families everywhere.”
Question about Defense Minister Khidasheli’s statement in Munich regarding U.S. assistance for Georgia’s defense capability. What exactly will these funds spent on?
Ambassador Kelly: “I think that you’ve probably heard that President Obama asked for a great increase in supporting countries in Eastern Europe, NATO allies, and NATO partners like Georgia. This is in response to the aggressive moves of Russia. And I think that while this money has not even been approved by Congress yet – once it is approved by Congress, of course, it will be allocated by country. But I think in Georgia’s case – I think what Georgia really needs to concentrate on is aligning its defense to be compatible with NATO. And I think just as important – if not more important – [is] developing the kind of deterrence capability that the country needs to ensure its continued growth and survivability as an independent nation.”