We are here today to congratulate Georgia - first, on very good elections and a peaceful transfer of power, and second, for your success in Vilnius in initialing the Association Agreement, a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. The United States will continue to support Georgia as you work to prepare for the signing of these agreements and their full implementation.
I had great meetings today: I’ve seen the President, the Prime Minister, the Justice Minister, the Parliament Speaker, and the Minority Leader of the Parliament. We met together, which speaks to Georgia’s increasing unity. And I also met with members of civil society and this evening will have dinner with members of the government. As you know, the United States continue to recognize Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will continue to stand by Georgia as it pursues further economic strength and European integration. As you move forward, we urge all parties to work together to constructively advance democratic and economic development. As you know better than I, challenges do remain, whether it is ensuring the protection of minorities here or building more independent and accountable judicial system or restoring economic growth. And we will stand with you as you work on these issues. The message that I will take back to Washington is a Georgia that is strong and a Georgia that is moving forward.
Now, before I go to your questions, I want to say a word about what is going on in Ukraine. With regard to Ukraine, it’s past time for the leadership in Ukraine to listen to the voices of its people, and to restore a path to European integration and economic health. The right to peaceful protest must be respected. Violence, or the threat of violence, is impermissible in a democratic state. Those responsible for the violence on November 30 must be brought to justice, and detainees must be released. Six days have gone by with no accountability. Again, the voices of the Ukrainian people must be heard. They are calling for a European future: that’s a free and democratic future; judicial accountability; human dignity and the restoration of Ukraine’s economic health.
Now I would be happy to take your questions.
Question: Following the presidential elections, which were thought to be a test, what are Georgia’s chances to join NATO? When are the Georgian government senior leaders going to visit the U.S.?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: First of all, on your second question: we do look forward to welcoming Georgia’s leadership in the United States. I’ll be talking about appropriate timing when I see the Prime Minister later tonight for dinner. With regard to NATO, first let me say that as a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, I am very proud of the role that Georgia plays as a strong partner of our Alliance and particularly the incredible courage and commitment of Georgian soldiers to NATO’s biggest mission in Afghanistan. As you know, the Ambassador and I had a chance to meet some of the veterans from Afghanistan, some of the wounded warriors, today, and that was really quite a moving experience. Georgia has made very strong progress in its work to prepare for NATO. As you know, we have the NATO–Georgia Commission which works to get Georgia ready so that we can look forward to meet its aspirations to someday be a NATO member. With regard to the summit that we are going to have in September, obviously, the American message and the message from NATO will be, continue to work hard to meet the Alliance's requirements, and we will assess where Georgia stands in September.
Question: Considering the situation in Ukraine, how will the U.S. strengthen support for Georgia during the next year, because we are going to sign the Association Agreement and Russian pressure is possible. Are you going to discuss Georgian–Russian relations during your visit in Moscow?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: The answer to the second question is certainly, Georgia almost always comes up when we sit and talk to our friends and partners in Moscow. Our message, obviously, will be that the United States stands strongly for the sovereignty and territorial independence of Georgia, that we want to see an appropriate relationship between these two neighbors, and we want to see more progress to settle the question of occupation and borderization, which is very dangerous as we know. As for your first question, as you know, the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement bring unique benefits in terms of Georgia’s integration to Europe. We know that you still have some work to do to prepare for signing and implement the aspects of the Agreement. I talked today with the President and I’ll have a conversation with the Prime Minister tonight about support that the European Union and the United States can give to Georgia to accelerate that process so that the day will come sooner rather than later that Georgians can enjoy visa-free travel to Europe, that you can enjoy the increasingly free trade benefits and you can strengthen business and commercial and people-to-people ties with Europe.
Question: And the Russian question?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Obviously, we are talking about how Georgia can be sure that it is defending its sovereignty, it’s defending its economy, etc ; and these conversations will continue depending on circumstances.
Question: After restoring cultural and economic relations between Georgia and Russia, Russia is continuing illegal actions, I mean, putting wires across the occupies territories. How can Georgia settle relations with Russia, given the above situation?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Again, I think I’ve noted that the United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We participate in the Geneva conversations about the way forward, urging Russia to meet its commitments that it made in 2008 talking about concerns not only with borderization but continued Russian force.
Those conversations need to continue. But I also want to underscore another angle, which goes back to Georgia’s decision for Europe. One of the most important things going forward is to continue to reach out in Georgia to the people of Abkhazia, to the people of South Ossetia, and encourage them to participate in the growing democracy and prosperity that Georgia has to offer. And that pull will become even stronger when Georgia can offer visa-free travel , when it can offer these trade benefits to Europe. Georgia is offering a path to Europe, and the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia deserve to be part of that as they are citizens of Georgia. Thank you very much, and I look forward to seeing you.