Good afternoon. I would like to thank the Ministry of Defense of Georgia for hosting us today for our Bilateral Defense Consultations, which I co-chaired with Deputy Minister Levan Girsiashvili. These productive high-level talks were an important opportunity to review our defense relationship and set the course for our cooperation into next year and beyond.
In our discussions, we agreed that the global security environment we confront today makes our bilateral relationship as important as ever. Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and here in Georgia challenge our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. The United States continues to call on Russia to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent states and to withdraw its forces from Georgia.
The U.S.-Georgia defense relationship is also as strong as ever, thanks to Georgia’s vital contributions to international security, pursuit of NATO membership, and enhanced exercises.
Georgia’s support to the Afghanistan mission is an obvious example of its ongoing commitment to international security. Georgia is the second-largest overall troop contributor – behind only the United States – to the NATO Resolute Support Mission, with approximately 860 soldiers deployed. On behalf of the United States, I want to thank Georgia once again for its sustained contributions to the Afghan mission over the last decade.
In our meetings today, I also had the opportunity to reiterate our steadfast support for Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations. At the Wales Summit, we recognized Georgia as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner and endorsed a substantial package for Georgia that includes defense capacity building and enhanced training and exercises to help Georgia advance in its preparations towards membership in the Alliance.
As part of that effort, we look forward to U.S. troops participating in Noble Partner, a Georgian-led military exercise, starting next month. Noble Partner is designed to improve the interoperability of Georgian and U.S. troops in the framework of the NATO Response Force, which provides a rapid multinational military force that can deploy quickly, wherever needed. Noble Partner will build on an already robust annual exercise program between Georgia and the U.S. and NATO.
The United States remains committed to its strong partnership with the Georgian Ministry of Defense and looks forward to continuing and strengthening all aspects of our defense relationship. Thank you