Secretary of State
July 6, 2016
PRIME MINISTER KVIRIKASHVILI: (Via interpretation) Please accept my warm welcome, ladies and gentlemen. We are extremely delighted to pay host to the U.S. State Secretary. It’s a great honor to receive him in Georgia, and we hold high in esteem the support of the United States Government and people toward Georgia from the day of our regaining independence. And I would like also to use this opportunity and congratulate State Secretary on the U.S. Independence Day two days ago, which was celebrated jointly (inaudible).
The visit of the Secretary of State to Georgia is another clear paragon of our cooperation – at the same time, Mr. Kerry’s visit. So in advance of the Warsaw Summit is the manifestation of Georgia’s assistance on her integration into the North Atlantic Alliance. We have discussed and deliberated on the very important issue of cooperation. It’s also within the framework of (inaudible). We summed up the activities of the working groups on the energetics, on the democracy, on the governing.
Also we planned the security – people-versus-people and the other groups’ priority, so we defined this priority as the current visit has yielded tangible results in terms of deepening our cooperation. A very important document between Georgia and U.S. on cooperation in the defense and security memorandum has been signed, which is an enabler for a new framework of deepened collaboration. And it is embracing such fields which are critical for increasing Georgian defense capabilities and implement of security. Also another document which will also expand the Fulbright academic exchange programs or like enhancement and broadening of the scope. So as a result of this, many Georgian scholars and students may become the fellows of this program.
Also the project which is aimed at – on the Georgian region, most importantly in the regions neighboring on the occupation line, to assist the economic growth there. In five regions of the country, around 2,000 new working places will be created. We quite widely discussed the democratic consolidation and the economic development and successes attending Georgia. We have underscored the very high importance of the United States involvement and support.
We also conversed at the parliamentary – upcoming parliamentary elections and the importance of conducting them in a peaceful, fair environment and the involvement of the U.S. observation mission. With your indulgence, allow me to note that the U.S. and Georgia Strategic Partnership is oriented at the Georgian as well as global security strengthening, assisting of the peaceful development. We stand ready to further deepen our partnership in this regard.
Allow me one more time to emphasize the very high importance of the visit and the results attained. A lot of thanks to the Secretary of State and our American colleagues for visiting Georgia and for their contribution in deepening of our mutual relationship. I am assured that by the vehicle of joined efforts will further strengthen the partnership ties between our countries. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. (In Georgian.) I’m very happy to be here. Hello to everyone. This is my second time to Tbilisi, to Georgia, but my first time as Secretary of State. And I want you to know that after sampling the khachapuri last time and my – and some wonderful wine, I don’t understand why I haven’t been back here sooner.
I also want to say to you that there’s always such a wonderful, generous welcome here that I have felt very personally, Mr. Prime Minister. Incredible vistas in this city, a beautiful city, a legendary hospitality, and I can promise you that if I didn’t have to get to Kyiv for meetings before Warsaw and then to Warsaw, I would love to spend longer time here. And I hope perhaps before I finish as Secretary, I’ll have a chance to come back and do that.
I’m really delighted to be here, to have an opportunity to consult with President Margvelashvili and with Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, and also with Foreign Minister Janelidze. And I’m particularly happy to be here at a time when we can celebrate the 25th anniversary of the restoration of Georgia’s independence.
This is a beautiful and democratic country in a challenging neighborhood at a testing time. And so I arrive here with a message from President Obama on down, and that is that the United States firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty, security, prosperity, and its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
On security, our partnership is unwavering and it is mutual. Georgia is the third-largest overall and the biggest non-NATO troop contributor to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. And over the years our brave troops have fought side by side in Helmand Province. The United States honors Georgia’s sacrifice and we are deeply grateful, Mr. Prime Minister, for your sustained support for this vital mission.
At the Bucharest Summit in 2008, NATO allies declared that Georgia will be a member of the alliance. And we reaffirmed the Bucharest commitment at the summits in Chicago and Wales, and we will do so again in Warsaw later this week. The Georgian people themselves have chosen and want a Euro-Atlantic future. And the United States remains committed to helping Georgia be able to achieve that goal.
Today, I was pleased to join the prime minister just now in signing a bilateral defense cooperation memorandum that defines our security partnership and the steps we will take together to further Georgia’s reliance and its resilience and its self-defense capabilities. And I thank our Defense Department, Secretary Carter, and the defense authorities here in Georgia, for their work together to bring about this memorandum.
The United States remains steadfast in our support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia’s occupation and militarization of parts of Georgia’s territory are unacceptable. And we continue to call on Russia to fulfil its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions and allowing unfettered access for the delivery of humanitarian supplies.
During our U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission meeting today, we discussed also our growing economic partnership. I announced a new $15 million U.S. program to support economic resiliency in Georgia and an additional $1 million to our existing program to improve compliance with labor laws. We also talked about the need to cement the judicial independence of Georgia’s judicial system. And later today I look forward to meeting with young Georgian entrepreneurs to hear about the work that they are doing to modernize the economy and to spur investment and innovation.
Georgia has been a model of peaceful democratic change and of improving electoral conditions for others in the region. And as I discussed with the prime minister, and as I will discuss with the president later today, we will raise this question of independence and of the democratic process with the opposition leaders when I meet with them tomorrow.
October 8th will also be another litmus test for Georgia. Free and fair elections will be an important step towards greater security, towards greater stability, and towards prosperity for all of the people of this country. And in all of our conversations, we talked about the need for an electoral environment that is free of intimidation and for continued progress to protect media freedom.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the closeness between our countries is our joint commitment to a stronger group of people-to-people ties. This past year alone we had 80 young Georgians travel to the United States to live with American families and attend a year of high school under the FLEX Program. We also have a vibrant collection of American Corners here, including a state-of-the-art Corner in Batumi. And as a former Muskie scholar, the prime minister has a very personal understanding of the value of these people-to-people connections.
Earlier today we signed a memorandum to co-fund the Fulbright Program in Georgia, and it’s going to double the number of Georgian students who are receiving scholarships to study in the United States. Of all the things that we do in foreign policy, this is perhaps one of the single most important. In country after country that I have visited where I’ve had the privilege to meet with the finance minister, an environment minister, a foreign minister, a prime minister, or even a president, these individuals have taken advantage of programs of exchange during the course of their own education. And I could cite any number of foreign ministers and other ministers who’ve told me that the years they spent studying in the United States or in Great Britain or in another country, and then others exchanging, were some of the most important foundations of foreign policy.
My friends, the bottom line is that our countries, Georgia and the United States, are close partners and we are friends. We are working together on many fronts. And we are both, I know, looking forward to participating in the NATO Summit in Warsaw. So Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you for you generous welcome here to your beautiful country, and I very much look forward to joining you and answer any questions from members of the press.
MR TONER: The question from the U.S. side, the first question, will go to Dave Clark from AFP.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Prime Minister, sorry to take you away from Georgia for a moment, but the Syrian army has declared a 72-hour ceasefire to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Is this sufficient, or should it be the basis for a longer ceasefire? And was it the subject of conversation when – of your last talks by telephone, I believe, with Foreign Minister Lavrov? Is it a product of the ISSG intervention or was it a Syrian initiative on its own? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: We welcome, very much welcome, the Syrian army declaration of a 72-hour period of quiet in celebration of and in honor of Eid. And we very much hope that it will be honored by all parties and that it will hold. This has been a matter of discussion within the ISSG/ceasefire task force efforts both in Geneva and Amman. And it is, I hope, an outgrowth of that discussion. We are engaged right now in ongoing discussions with various parties, including the Russians, regarding the possibility of extending this. So is 72 hours enough? The answer is very simple: no. Is 72 hours more welcome than nothing? The answer is yes. But we are trying very hard to grow these current discussions into a longer-lasting, real, enforceable, accountable cessation of hostilities that could change the dynamics on the ground hopefully to permit a legitimate conversation in Geneva for transition and for a political solution to begin to take place. I’m not going to offer any judgments about the prospects of that happening, but it has to be our goal and it’s one that we’re working on very, very hard, and we hope that the 72 hours could perhaps be a harbinger of possibilities to come.
MODERATOR: (Via translation) Next question is from the Georgian side, Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Levan Kvatashidze.
QUESTION: (Via translation) Hello, my question is about the NATO Warsaw Summit and I would like to address this question to the Secretary of State. As there are official expectations for this summit, what will be the specific outcome of the summit, what should official Tbilisi expect from it, as in fact, as we know, there are no expectations for the MAP, what will be the support of U.S., a strategic partner country, to Georgia. One thing is supportive statements, and another thing is the position of skeptical NATO member countries. So I would like to concretely know, what is the maximum that the country can receive from this summit. Here I’ll take the opportunity to ask a question about the signed memorandum: to what level can Georgia-U.S. relations progress after this memorandum in terms of defense capabilities. Could you please specify?
And Mr. Prime minister I would like you to answer this question as well.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Thank you for the question, which is a very legitimate question, an appropriate question. Let me begin by saying that the United States is firmly committed to NATO’s open-door policy, and as the allies stated in 2008 in the Bucharest Summit Declaration, Georgia will become a member of NATO. Now, we stand by that statement, and we have joined with allies at the NATO summits in Chicago, in Wales, and we will stand by this statement again in Warsaw to reaffirm our support for Georgia’s membership.
Now, yes, there have been reasons for a slowdown in the process. I think everybody can understand there’s an awful lot happening right now between Ukraine, Syria, the region. There are a lot of challenges and so some countries have wanted to try to measure those – the progress with respect to those as they think about assuming greater responsibility. But Georgia is already an important NATO partner and the people of Georgia should really look very positively on what Georgia has accomplished and on what Georgia is doing.
Georgia is a valuable contributor to NATO operations today. Georgia will be at the summit. Georgia is already the largest non-NATO contributor to the troops for the Resolute Support operations in Afghanistan. And we honor the extraordinary sacrifices of the people of Georgia, and they are recognized by every member-state of NATO. So I wouldn’t view this as a moment of despair or a moment of setback. I would view it as a continuing process by which confidence is built and timing becomes appropriate for the final steps to be taken.
Now, with respect to the memorandum that we just signed here today, it will support the acquisition of defense articles and related articles that improve the interoperability and the sustainability and the deployability of Georgia’s forces and capacities to be able to work and cooperate with the other forces of NATO. It will exchange – it will help in the education and the training and the exchange of operational and technical personnel in order to be able to improve operations between us. It will implement best practices in defense governance that helps to prepare further for implementation of a NATO. It will include the carrying out of joint and combined exercises in order to share expertise and to further provide for greater cooperation and facilitation in Georgia’s implementing of some of the best practices of NATO and of these countries. It will include cooperation on enhanced border, maritime, and airspace security. And there will be increased information-sharing and security practices, security training, and managing arrangements with respect to security facilitation in this theater and in various theaters.
So there’s a lot in this. There is a lot that is happening which will greatly improve the seamless operation between NATO forces, NATO countries, and Georgia, and that is all to the better with respect to the process of full membership and full participation.
PRIME MINISTER KVIRIKASHVILI: (In Georgian.)
MODERATOR: (In Georgian.) (Applause.)