U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili chaired the fourth plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission on February 26, at the U.S. Department of State, followed by a discussion on advancing our bilateral relationship chaired by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze. The Strategic Partnership Commission serves as the primary mechanism for organizing and prioritizing the broad and deepening cooperation between the United States and Georgia. The Commission includes four bilateral working groups focused on priority areas identified in the Charter on Strategic Partnership: democracy; defense and security; economic, trade, and energy; and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The February 26 session involved discussions by the Working Group co-chairs on Commission goals for 2014, including a timeline to convene the year’s Working Group meetings.
The United States congratulated Georgia on the completion of its peaceful and democratic transfer of power following the transparent and well-administered presidential election in 2013, as well as its initialing of an Association Agreement with the EU, which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The United States also announced additional assistance to support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision, specifically to achieve visa-free travel with the EU and mitigate the hardships and isolation caused by borderization along Georgia’s occupied territories. The United States reiterated firmly its objection to Russia’s occupation, militarization and borderization of Georgian territories and called again on the Russian Federation to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
The Democracy Working Group co-chairs reaffirmed the importance of ensuring a fair, level and competitive playing field for political parties and candidates before, during, and after the June 2014 local elections. Both sides acknowledged the value of a strong and independent judiciary and the necessity of ensuring that accountability for alleged misconduct by officials does not come at the cost of a fair process. The United States also congratulated Georgia on the launch of its new National Human Rights Action Plan. Its successful implementation – along with passage and implementation of an anti-discrimination law – will strengthen legal protections for all, including minorities in Georgia, helping bring the country in line with international standards and helping Georgia achieve the necessary benchmarks to sign its Association Agreement with the EU in 2014.
The Defense and Security Working Group co-chairs expressed continued support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Both sides highlighted solid achievements in Georgia’s defense reforms. The United States expressed support for Georgia’s efforts to share its experiences and best practices in defense transformation with other partner nations. Both sides underscored progress focused on NATO interoperability and self-defense capabilities, including the recent decision for the United States to sponsor Georgia’s participation in the NATO Response Force. In addition, the United States thanked Georgia for its contributions to the NATO ISAF Mission in Afghanistan, recognized Georgia’s efforts to care for its wounded warriors, and reiterated that the United States will continue to support such efforts, including the development of Georgia’s domestic care capacity. The United States also reaffirmed its continued support for Georgia’s membership in NATO. Both parties recognized the potential to transform the successful Northern Distribution Network into a commercial network for trade and investment by working together.
The People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges Working Group co-chairs thanked Georgia for its measured reaction to provocative “borderization” along the administrative boundary lines with the occupied territories. They expressed support for the newly renamed State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality and its outreach to the residents of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali regions. Both sides also noted the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact’s support to the Georgian workforce and are encouraged by ongoing work by the Supervisory Board to prepare for implementation and entry into force later this year. The Government of Georgia welcomed USAID’s selection of Georgia as one of twenty worldwide focus countries for the Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnership (STIP) program to enhance Georgia’s development in these key areas. A USAID team will travel to Georgia to examine with its Georgian colleagues options to help accelerate Georgia's participation in the STIP program. Building on Georgia’s recent participation in the Global Health Security initiative in Washington, DC, the co-chairs discussed further cooperation between health institutions on Georgian domestic and regional disease detection, surveillance, and response.
The Economic, Energy, and Trade Working Group co-chairs discussed the “Georgia 2020” draft economic strategy, which the United States urged Georgia to adopt promptly and implement with continued private sector consultation. The co-chairs also addressed Georgia’s growing economic role in the region and reaffirmed Georgia’s potential to become a regional trade and transportation hub, stressing the importance of improving infrastructure and enhancing regional cooperation and harmonization with a view toward removing regulatory bottlenecks in the region. Given the evolving architecture of each country's trade relationships, both sides agreed to work through the USTR-led High Level Trade and Investment Dialogue to discuss various options to strengthen trade and investment between our countries, including the possibility in the future of a free trade agreement. To further deepen the U.S.-Georgia economic partnership, we committed to take practical steps and exchange ideas on economic reforms and opportunities for cooperation in particular sectors.
For more information on the Strategic Partnership Commission, please visit: http://www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/gg/usgeorgiacommission/index.htm.