Kerry Vows More US Support During Visit to Georgia

TBILISI - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday arrived in Tbilisi for a two-day trip to discuss key bilateral and regional issues with top officials in the Georgian government.

Kerry said US President Barack Obama is deeply committed to supporting Georgia’s sovereignty, security and Euro-Atlantic aspirations at a time when “our cooperation is deepening.” 

While meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Kerry noted “the daunting challenges that Georgia faces, and we are proud to be part of helping you define your future. The United States has contributed some $4.3 billion in aid and we are working very hard on bolstering the partnership when it comes to defense.”

Kerry’s visit is a precursor to the NATO Warsaw Summit that begins Saturday, where Georgia expects to receive high praise for its European and Euro-Atlantic integration progress.

“I’m happy to stop here right before I go to the NATO Warsaw Summit, because obviously, I know your membership is much on your mind and an important consideration,” Kerry told Kvirikashvili.

Kerry also clearly underscored that significance of the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for October 8, saying the US respected the reforms being implemented that would ensure a free and fair election.

For his part, Kvirikashvili thanked the US government for firmly backing Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The day’s most notable event came when Kerry and Kvirikashvili signed a memorandum of cooperation in the defense and security spheres.

Following the signing, Reuters reported that “Kerry told Georgia that the United States would help to bolster its army as he reassured a close ally just before the NATO summit is expected to focus on the threat from a resurgent Russia.”

Kvirikashvili told reporters that the memorandum enables Georgia to purchase arms from the United States. Specifically, the agreement calls for greater military and security cooperation, enhanced information sharing, and help in building up Georgia’s defensive capacities, including its combat readiness.

The US’ security support for Georgia  is currently focused on training Georgian troops for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the press conference, Kerry called on Russia to once again fulfill its obligations under the 2008 Ceasefire Agreement requirements that calls for a withdrawal of its combat forces in the region.

Kakha Gogolashvili, an expert on international relations, said Kerry’s visit is a signal to other NATO member countries “of Georgia’s significant participation in the alliance.”

Georgia’s former ambassador to the US, Batu Kutelia, commented that Kerry’s remarks on the forthcoming elections of October 8 was a simple message that Georgia should meet high standards of internationally accepted democratic norms.

The October elections are widely regarded by outside observers as a litmus test for Georgia’s democratic reforms.

Kerry visits Ukraine on Thursday, before heading to Warsaw to join US President Barack Obama for the NATO summit.

Georgia’s government is keeping a close eye on the Summit as it awaits more tangible commitments from NATO despite being told Georgia would not be offered a formal path towards membership.

Georgia was originally promised eventual membership in NATO at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, and later received a “Substantive Package” agreement in 2014. Full integration into NATO, however, is likely not on the table as many of the 28 members fear Russia’s reaction if either Georgia or Ukraine joins the alliance.

By Zviad Adzinbaia

Edited by Nicholas Waller

06 July 2016 15:28