Press Availability at Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Democracy and Governance Working Group Meeting (June 21)

US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Bridget Brink:   Greetings.  On behalf of a senior group of officials across the US government, I want to thank my colleagues here – Deputy Foreign Minister Zalkaliani and Deputy Justice Minister Baramidze – for a frank and productive Democracy Working Group.

I can say that we were pleased with the substance of our discussions as well as with the inclusiveness of the Georgian delegation, which included government and parliament – and very importantly also, members of the opposition.

Our message was clear:  we support Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations.  In this context, the October elections will be important.  As longtime friends of Georgia, we note the importance of a pre-electoral period that is free from violence and intimidation, and the government’s primary responsibility to ensure this outcome.

Outside of elections, we noted continuing concerns with the Rustavi 2 case.  Georgians’ Euro-Atlantic trajectory depends on maintaining a diversity of viewpoints in the media.

We also underscored the importance of an independent judiciary to any strong democracy and urged the passage of the third wave of judicial reforms.  We appreciated Prime Minister Kvirikashvili’s constructive posture and tone during the pre-electoral period and his call for police forces to ensure order, especially in the regions.

All of us on this delegation are longtime supporters of Georgia’s democratic development.  Georgia has come a long way.  Our ability to have an open and frank Democracy Working Group – including with opposition members – underscores this.

I want to thank again our hosts, the entire Georgian team from across the government and parliament, as well as the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Speaker, opposition parties, civil society, and media representatives – all of whom met with us during these two days that we have been in Georgia.  Thank you.

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 Assistant Administrator of USAID for Europe & Eurasia Thomas MELIA:  My name is Thomas Melia, I am the Assistant Administrator of USAID.  I am pleased to be back in Tbilisi to participate in my second Working Group in the last three months.

From the outset of our bilateral relations in 1992, the bilateral relationship between Georgia and the United States has continually expanded and deepened.  Over these 24 years, USAID has provided 1.5 billion dollars in assistance to the Georgian people, and overall the United States government has provided 3.7 billion dollars in assistance to Georgia.

Today, in discussing the political developments and the forthcoming elections, we covered many different issues.  We were very pleased to see the statement yesterday by Prime Minister Kvirikashvili instructing all state employees to refrain from involvement in politics during this election season.  Abuse of state resources in political campaign periods has been a problem in the past, here and in many other countries.  Now it is important for the government to clarify – for the people and for state employees alike – what exactly constitutes an abuse of state resources to ensure that it is monitored and discouraged.

In our meeting with various officials and in today’s Working Group, we talked about how important it would be for the Central Election Commission to establish an early warning system to uncover and avert incidents of violence, and to work with the appropriate law enforcement to make sure the campaign season, rallies, and meetings remain peaceful and that Election Day remains peaceful as well.

USAID and other US agencies remain prepared to continue helping Georgia move forward towards consolidating democracy and European integration.

I also want to thank our hosts for a constructive and illuminating discussion today which cemented our ongoing partnership.  I look forward to the next installment of our dialogue.