Assistant Secretary A. Wes Mitchell’s Remarks at the NATO-Georgia Public Diplomacy Forum (May 1)
Well, thank you Mr. Prsdient, Mr. Prime Minster, Mr. Foreign Minister, Mr. Chairman. I am very happy to be here this morning. I had the pleasure of speaking with Prime Minister Kvirikashvili in March, and he asked me to come visit as soon as I had the opportunity, so I came as quickly as I could. This is my first official visit to Georgia, a country that I have studied and admired for a very long time, and I’m delighted to be here to help open this event celebrating Georgia’s relationship with the NATO Alliance.
I spent the last two days in Brussels with Secretary Pompeo at the NATO Foreign Ministerial. He underscored in those meetings, and I will underscore today, that the United States supports Georgia steadfastly in its path to NATO and the European Union. As Vice President Pence said during his visit here last July, “We are with you. We stand with you. We are proud of our friendship and strategic partnership with the nation and the people of Georgia.”
NATO’s door remains open to all European democracies that uphold the values of the Alliance and contribute to our common security. We stand by that principle. Georgia is a strong partner to us because it stands with us in fighting common threats around the world. Your sons and daughters have bled alongside our sons and daughters in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But you are also a partner in the world of ideas: because of our common belief in democracy and the rule of law. Georgia is a powerful symbol of freedom.
No one but Georgia can choose Georgia’s future. No third country has a veto on Georgia’s NATO membership. Upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent states is in your interest, its’ in Europe’s interest, and it’s in America’s interest.
This summer marks the tenth anniversary of NATO’s Bucharest declaration that Georgia will become a member of NATO. The Alliance remains firmly behind this declaration which has been reinforced in every summit communique since 2008. President Trump stands by the 2008 Bucharest declaration and urges Allies to uphold the commitment that they made at that time.
This summer marks another anniversary. Ten years ago, Russia invaded Georgia. The United States unequivocally condemns Russia’s occupation of Georgian soil. The Russian occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Georgia. The United States supports Georgia’s independence, your sovereignty, and territorial integrity within your internationally recognized borders.
We expect the Russian Federation to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement. We call on Moscow to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, to drop its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and to provide free access for humanitarian assistance to those regions.
We commend the Georgian government’s efforts to find a way forward. Most recently, you launched a peace initiative to engage citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Only through continued outreach and communication will Georgia strengthen people-to-people ties with those regions.
The Russian Federation continues its destabilizing activities in Europe. Most recently it launched a nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom. NATO sent a strong message that it will not let this aggression go unanswered. We want dialogue with Russia. The door is open, and the choice is Moscow’s.
Until Russia chooses peace, we will resist its pressure, wherever we find it. Countering Russia’s malign influence in Europe requires Western unity. We must work together to expose and counter Russian interference in our democratic institutions and societies. There is no country more aware than Georgia of the Russian threat and the need for a long-term strategy to counter it.
Georgia’s strength in the face of this threat is remarkable – and its’ an inspiration to all of us. You live in a very tough neighborhood. You occupy a strategic and civilizational frontier. And yet you have continually chosen the West. I want to recall the familiar words of your former Prime Minister Zhvania in his closing remarks to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in 1999: “I am Georgian. Therefore, I am European.” Those words inspire us all.
You continue to make headway in institutional reform—hard work that strengthens your bonds with the West. You’re strengthening democracy, stimulating investment, and creating better lives for all Georgians.
Georgia has established its democratic credentials as a leader in this region. As you approach the 100th year of independence, you have an opportunity to build upon that work. We are encouraged by the plans of the Georgian government and parliament to strengthen judicial independence and accountability. We urge the government not only to pass reforms, but to implement them.
Under the capable leadership of Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, Georgia has experienced strong economic growth and job creation. I applaud the Prime Minister and his four-point plan for growth and look forward to supporting his team through robust economic engagement and assistance programs.
The Georgian government is working to transform its defense institutions and military forces, working side-by-side with the U.S. Department of Defense to become fully interoperable with NATO forces and improve Georgia’s ability to defend itself.
We support Georgia’s commitment to a strong and modern military and commend its dedication of 2.2 percent of GDP to defense spending. You have shown commitment not only to Georgia’s own defense but to global security. The Alliance depends upon strong, resilient partners like Georgia to safeguard our common security interests around the world.
Year in and year out, Georgia has made valuable contributions to the Alliance, including in Afghanistan and as part of the NATO Response Force. I have to say, as an aside, I have spoken with American military officers and soldiers, and I know the very high regard with which they hold their Georgian counterparts. On a per capita basis, Georgia has contributed more troops to Afghanistan than any other country. Thirty-two Georgian soldiers have paid the ultimate sacrifice there. The American Republic recognizes and honors those brave individuals. On Georgian Army Day, we thank their families for the high price they have paid for your freedom and for ours.
Georgia also contributes to our shared security interest in the Black Sea region. We appreciate Georgia’s proposals for deepening practical cooperation and political dialogue in this region. We look forward to enhancing our cooperation and strengthening our common security in this part of the world.
A strong national defense is the cornerstone of deterrence. It is essential to the preservation of Georgia’s integrity and sovereignty. Through its partnership with NATO, Georgia has the tools to improve its defense capacity, its institutions, and its interoperability with the Alliance. The stronger you are, the stronger the West is.
In all of these areas, the United States supports Georgia. We have stood with you for a quarter century now. Our partnership is strong. On the 10th anniversary of an act of aggression, I celebrate the 100th anniversary of your independence. Long live Georgia, and long live the U.S-Georgia friendship. Thank you.