DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning everyone. Welcome to the State Department. It is a special honor to welcome the vice prime minister here today and the entire delegation from Georgia. We’re grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the strong and vibrant partnership between the United States and Georgia as we host what is now the fifth Strategic Partnership Commission Plenary Session.
I understand, Mr. Minister, that there is a saying in Georgia that “guests are a gift from God.” Well, today your presence is a gift to us. Thank you for the longstanding friendship as we work for peace and prosperity for both our nations and indeed for the world beyond.
This morning the minister and I had a very good, productive meeting where I emphasized our determination and our determined support for Georgia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. We also discussed a range of issues from our ongoing trade partnership to our firm solidarity against external threats to Georgia’s sovereignty.
We stand by the commitment we made in Bucharest that Georgia will become a member of NATO, and we continue to strongly support its aspirations on this path. We look forward to continue our discussions on these themes during the plenary session that we’ll have in just a few minutes.
It’s also clear to us that Georgia’s lived by the words of one of their great poets from the 12th century, Shota Rustaveli, who said, “That which we give makes us richer; that which is hoarded is lost.” From Central Africa to Central Asia, when the world asks for help, Georgia answers. We commend your pledge of a battalion to the UN peacekeeping mission and your remarkable contributions in Afghanistan as the second largest overall troop contributor to the NATO Resolute Support Mission. We honor, as well, the sacrifices that Georgians have made – soldiers, their families, their loved ones – and express our deep appreciation for their role in making the world just a little bit safer.
Georgia has made significant progress since the last time we met, the last plenary. In less than two years Georgia held its first direct elections of mayors; it passed anti-discrimination legislation; it signed an Association Agreement with the European Union and hosted a foundational Silk Road Forum to bolster the east-west trade corridor, something that the minister and I talked about a little while ago.
This progress is even more remarkable for having occurred in the face of Russia’s occupation and borderization with Georgian territories. We stand steadfast in our support for Georgia’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its independence. Decisions on Georgia’s future should be made the citizens of Georgia and no one else.
We continue to call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all its forces to pre-conflict positions and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance. We welcome Georgia’s measured reactions to provocations on the administrative boundary lines and outreach to the residents of the occupied territories. And we strongly encourage and fully support reconciliation efforts to bring about a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict.
The world needs a prosperous, democratic Georgia. By implementing important economic, legal, and governance reforms, Georgia is unlocking the potential of all of its citizens and the growth of its nation and, indeed, of the wider region. Last week, the U.S.-Georgia High Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment and then last month the Silk Road Forum are only two examples of the many ways that Georgia is seizing new opportunities to drive sustainable development and longer term prosperity.
Moreover, Georgia’s strategic location as a bridge between Europe and Asia makes its EU Association Agreement – with its deep comprehensive free trade area – all the more important. We commend you, Mr. Minister, on your progress and urge the pace of reforms to continue. Ultimately, the best guarantor of peace, prosperity, and stability is an open, inclusive society where political pluralism thrives and the rule of law is respected. As Georgia moves toward parliamentary elections in 2016, fostering a vigorous competition of ideas is vital to Georgia’s future and its desired path of integration with the Euro-Atlantic Community. To achieve this, Georgia must support and strengthen two essential elements of democracy.
First, a strong and independent judiciary. We commend your recent reform efforts, including to Georgia’s domestic security apparatus and prisons, and urge you to deepen and broaden justice sector reforms in both legislation and in practice. It’s also imperative that people have faith in Georgia’s system of justice and know that it upholds their rights not only in rhetoric but in reality.
Second, an opposition. The governing coalition knows this more than anyone. We remain concerned, however, about preserving the space for an issue-based political dialogue. Georgia must continue to establish and maintain an environment in which members of political and minority groups can freely express their views, and the minister and I discussed some of the progress in that regard just a short while ago.
In short, we look to you to protect the freedom and diversity of your political parties and media as one of the most important pillars of Georgia’s democracy. Mr. Vice Prime Minister, it’s, as I said at the outset, a great privilege to have you here today. The United States is invested. The United States is committed to Georgia’s future. We look forward to working with you as we meet challenges and seize opportunities in this new century together. We’re proud of our partnership, and we look forward to making it even deeper and stronger. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER KVIRIKASHVILI: Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Secretary of State. Thank you very much for hosting us. Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it is a great honor and privilege to address such a distinguished audience today within the frames of fifth of U.S.-Georgia Strategic Charter Omnibus Plenary Session. I am proud to say that our strategic partnership remains very strong, and both sides fully realize the meaning of this cooperation as well as the importance of further reinforcing these solid partnerships ties.
Let me start with conveying our heartfelt gratitude for the U.S. staunch support of my country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, as well as European integration and Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations. Allow me to underscore that U.S. support provides a powerful encouragement to our determination to proceed with the noble task of strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Georgia, in spite of the fact that more than 20 percent of Georgia remains under the Russian occupation. We witness on a daily basis the creeping annexation, manifested in continuous militarization, borderization, and signing of the so-called treaties and occupation regime – with occupation regimes, all gravely threatening the security and stability in the region.
Hereby, let me appreciate the U.S. Government’s strong support for our conflict resolution efforts and non-recognition policy. Georgia is always firm in safeguarding global security, and we continue standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States, where our presence is required, such as in Afghanistan. We made that strategic decision as a U.S. ally, and despite suffering substantial casualties there, we proudly stand by that choice. Our government is strongly committed to taking U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership to a qualitatively new level.
The virtually all-encompassing nature of the four working groups to the charter – Security and Defense; Democracy and Governance; Economy, Energy and Trade; and People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges – duly reflects the scope of our bilateral relations. The field of security and defense, Georgia and the United States enjoy a strong collaboration. The United States support enables us to significantly progress in defense transformation process. Yet both the mounting regional challenges and the global turbulence puts us all under the great pressure when it comes to the security of our nations.
Due to this strategic urgency, it will be critical to improve the security of Georgia through political, defense, and economic means in order to increase its defense capabilities, resilience, and deterrence.
We express our special gratitude to the U.S. for its invaluable support with the implementation of the substantial NATO-Georgia package. We are showing continuous progress towards NATO membership by effectively using all existing integration mechanisms, including ANP and SNGP. We hope that the NATO summit in Warsaw will duly credit Georgia for the successful defense and security reforms, and will advance our country onto a next step towards the membership of the alliance. The traditionally strong leadership of the United States will surely be indispensable in this regard. On our part, I am proud to reiterate that Georgia will continue to be strongly dedicated to the NATO Resolute Support Mission.
Herewith, I would also like to thank the United States for the outstanding support providing to our wounded warriors, our brave men and women in uniform. With the U.S. support, we have progressed in the direction of strengthening democracy and rule of law through implementing extensive reforms to ensure more freedom, more transparent and accountable governance, and to guarantee the vibrancy of our democratic institutions. While much has been done, we are well aware that democratic consolidation is an unending construct – constant endeavor which requires regular monitoring to identify and mend deficiencies. We will continue closely working with our foremost strategic partner, the United States, in those areas to reach the best international standards.
It goes without saying that providing prosperity and well-being for its citizenry should be on top of every responsible government’s agenda. We believe that there is a huge untapped potential for bolstering the economic dimensions of U.S.-Georgia relations. As befits strategic partners, in this regard we consider that the United States-Georgia High-Level Trade and Investment Dialogue supports this effort by discussing options for building trade and investment ties, including the possibility of a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement. Last Friday, we conducted a very successful round of talks within this format, and we took forward – look forward to advancing rapidly in all identified areas of cooperation.
Let me use this opportunity to congratulate the United States on the successful completion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We also welcome the progress on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and express interest in the possibility of cooperation within the aforesaid platforms. Hereby, let me add that Georgia is blessed with exceptionally advantageous location and potential to turning into the gateway linking Europe with the growing East Asian markets through the Caspian Sea and the Central Asia region. We plan to underpin these ambitions by continuous improvement to our transportation infrastructure and elimination of regulatory bottlenecks to trade via the region.
In this regard, let me thank the U.S. side for the support and high-level participation in the Tbilisi Silk Road Forum. We also fully understand the importance of enhancing Georgian workforce through strategic investment in education. Let me thus express our deep appreciation for the U.S. investment of U.S. $140 million through the Second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, aimed at improving the quality of education in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
In the same vein, I would like to stress the importance of the U.S.-sponsored exchange programs and express hope that they will grow in numbers and scope. Some time ago, I had an opportunity to pursue this path, and I think this was once-in-a-life opportunity for my – for me to study in one of the best education institutions in the United States. Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank U.S. Government for that.
In addition to the educational opportunities for Georgian students, our citizens feel the groundbreaking impact of the successful bilateral cooperation in health sector, and especially in C Hepatitis elimination program.
And to conclude, Mr. Deputy Secretary, as we thank our American friends for these achievements, we will spare no effort to explore yet untapped opportunities in all spheres. I do believe that our existing and prospective avenues of partnership are destined to succeed by bringing about tangible results and promoting mutual interests.
Once again, thank you very much for this warm hospitality and for the opportunity to discuss the future prospects of U.S.-Georgian relations. Thanks.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Mr. Vice Foreign Minister, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)