Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri opened the third annual plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission in Batumi on June 5. All four bilateral working groups, co-chaired by senior representatives from the United States and Georgian governments, discussed a wide range of issues of importance to both countries.
The working group on defense and security underscored the continuing U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Following up on the meeting of President Obama and President Saakashvili on January 30, Secretary Clinton spoke with President Saakashvili regarding the progress we have made in fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to enhance our cooperation to modernize Georgian armed forces and improve Georgia's self-defense capabilities; increase its ability to operate with NATO, while fulfilling requirements for NATO membership; and further reform its military and defense establishment. We discussed options to help Georgia develop its air surveillance and air defense and coastal surveillance capabilities as well as defensive combat engineer capabilities, improve leadership and training skills of its non-commissioned officers, advance the command and control abilities of its brigade headquarters, and prepare to upgrade its utility helicopter fleet. As we move from analysis and evaluation to implementation in the coming months, the United States will consider requests from Georgia to procure defensive articles and services to complement this training and assistance.
The democracy and governance working group reaffirmed the importance of an open and competitive electoral environment, including a level playing field, open debate, and citizens’ access to a wide range of information and viewpoints, in the run-up to 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections. The United States emphasized how upcoming elections provide Georgia with an opportunity, with the election of a new President and parliament, to consolidate democratic achievements and further strengthen its democratic culture and citizens’ confidence in public institutions, which will bring Georgia closer to achieving its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The group also agreed on the importance of criminal justice reform, an independent judiciary, and reform to the administrative code to strengthen further rule of law in Georgia. The U.S. recognized Georgia’s progress in protecting minority rights, including by amending the civil code, and encouraged its continued efforts to integrate minorities.
The economic, energy, and trade working group discussed the outcome of the May 29 high-level Trade and Investment Dialogue, which discussed a range of options to improve bilateral trade, including the possibility of a free trade agreement. This dialogue is a win-win for the United States and Georgia as we continue to identify opportunities for businesses to invest in Georgia, and for both countries to sell goods and services to each other. The group also discussed ways to improve Georgia’s business climate to attract more investment, underscoring the importance of continued improvements in rule of law, respect for labor rights, and protecting intellectual property rights. In addition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) stated its intention to move to the design phase of a second MCC compact with Georgia.
The people-to-people working group discussed ways Georgia can reach out to the people of its occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia regions. The United States will accept the Status Neutral Travel Document as a valid document for travel to the United States. The United States views this as a step toward reconciliation, which will facilitate freedom of travel and could reduce tensions and build links between people without compromising Georgia’s sovereignty. Soon, U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide will accept the Status Neutral Travel Document for residents of both these regions who choose to use them. The group also confirmed plans for continuing our visa dialogue and for a new agreement that will bring our scientific communities closer together, increasing our research capacity and fueling innovation.
The Strategic Partnership Commission will remain the primary mechanism for organizing and prioritizing the broad and deepening cooperation between the United States and Georgia.