SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, everybody. It’s my great pleasure and privilege to welcome Prime Minister Garibashvili from Georgia and our esteemed Georgian colleagues. Thank you all for being here with us for this dialogue that will take place today, and we are very happy to participate in the Fourth Strategic Partnership Commission Plenary Session. And we’ve just had a very good bilateral meeting in which we’ve discussed a host of issues ranging from the economic challenges to Georgia, the external challenges to Georgia, and we ranged as far as, obviously, the Association Agreement with Europe and the challenge of Ukraine, and other issues in the region.
We were going to have some very traditional Georgian dancers come in here to celebrate your arrival, but regrettably the swords and daggers wouldn’t get by the Diplomatic Security, so unable to do that. But we are actually very, very pleased to continue this dialogue. I’ve been to Georgia prior to becoming Secretary of State; I look forward to visiting as Secretary of State. And we’ve had a very strong and important relationship focused on many, many issues, but significant – democracy and rule of law and the transition in Georgia to your recent election. And we’re very pleased now to be able to meet here in Washington and continue a conversation which has been ongoing for some period of time.
It’s fitting that we meet together here in the Ben Franklin Room. That’s Ben Franklin up behind us here. He was our first diplomat, the first ambassador to France. He’s the father of the Foreign Service and a really unrivaled innovator. I think you know that. And the reason why he remains one of the most beloved Americans is because of his frontier spirit and his openness and his ingenuity. Frankly, we see that same kind of open spirit and innovation and frontier spirit in what you are engaged in right now in Georgia.
And this year we celebrate 12 years of a strong and ever-growing-stronger relationship between Georgia and the United States. We made a lot of progress, but now we need to build on it, and that’s what we talked about a few minutes ago and will continue in the discussion today.
First, I want to congratulate you on Georgia’s free and fair presidential election in 2013. The transparency and the openness of the process were significant, and we applaud it. You have a chance to build on these achievements by demonstrating now a level playing field during your upcoming local elections. And I think everybody knows that democracies benefit from strong political opposition, so we urge all sides to work constructively to advance the dialogue and debate within Georgia, and that’s just going to make your nation stronger. We’re confident of that.
We also want to reiterate U.S. support for Georgia’s participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, and we encourage Georgia to sign an Association Agreement with the EU later this year. Today, I am announcing – and let me just say about that that as we do that, as I have said about Ukraine yesterday with Secretary William Hague, we don’t make that urging for the signing of an association as some sort of zero-sum game between the East and West or between us or any other party. We simply want people to be able to exercise their freedom of choice and be able to maximize their economic opportunities. And that doesn’t mean that it can’t also involve engagement with others, as we would hope it would, because we are involved in a global trading regime and a global society, and increasingly is impossible for people to operate in exclusionary ways.
Today, I am announcing additional assistance by the United States to help support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision; specifically, to help Georgia achieve visa-free travel with the EU and to mitigate the hardships caused by borderization along the occupied territories. We also commend Georgia’s progress on economic reform, and we urge the government to quickly implement its plans to spur trade and investment, including with the United States. Strict adherence to rule of law and a steadfast commitment to the process will encourage the confidence of investors and it will serve as a catalyst for integration with Europe and enhance Georgia’s international reputation. We urge all Georgians to unite in looking forward and to leave the past in the past.
The United States remains committed to strengthening our trade and investment with Georgia – particularly important as we pursue trade negotiations with the EU. And we also support your efforts to become a regional trade hub, which will require continued infrastructure improvements and sustained regional cooperation.
Our enhanced defense cooperation is ongoing, and we commend Georgia’s contribution as the largest non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan, serving alongside United States Marines in Helmand Province and standing ready to contribute to the alliance’s post-2014 mission. We honor the extraordinary sacrifices of Georgian soldiers and their families, and we will continue to work with you to develop the capacity to care and support for your wounded.
We stand by the Bucharest decision and all subsequent decisions that Georgia will become a member of NATO. The United States will work to make sure that Georgia’s progress is acknowledged by all members of this year’s NATO Summit.
We support your reconciliation efforts in an effort to achieve a peaceful and a just resolution to the conflicts of Georgia. The United States remains steadfast in our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We continue to object to Russia’s occupation, militarization, and borderization of Georgian territory, and we call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of its forces and free access for humanitarian assistance.
Lastly and most importantly, our relationship is founded on a close connection between our people. Building on your health minister’s participation in the recent Global Health Security Initiative, we look forward to sharing medical best practices in order to promote public health. The United States supports efforts to help preserve Georgia’s rich cultural heritage though the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and the International Visitor Leadership Program.
Given Georgia’s many achievements in just over two decades and our close and growing cooperation in a large number of areas, I am confident that our relationship will not just endure, but it’s going to grow. It’s going to flourish in the years to come. And as we approach the challenges ahead together, we can take confidence in what we have already achieved together. Our strategic partnership is stronger than ever, thanks in no small part to the work that we have done as part of this commission and the work that we will continue in the discussion today.
So Mr. Prime Minister, it’s my great privilege to welcome you here. Thank you for being with us. We look forward to working with you as you meet the many challenges that you face, and look forward to growing this partnership. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER GARIBASHVILI: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much, and I’d like to thank you for your personal engagement and for your personal support to Georgia.
Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to – and privilege to address the distinguished audience on such an important occasion at the Fourth U.S.-Georgia Strategic Charter Omnibus Plenary Session in the margins of my first visit to United States in this capacity of prime minister of Georgia. I am very honored to underline that the people and the Government of Georgia are in perfect unison in considering the United States of America as our foremost partner.
From the very outset, let me express heartfelt gratitude for your unwavering commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, democratic consolidation in NATO and EU membership aspirations of my country. And your support provides a powerful stimulus to our resolve to proceed in the often uphill but honorable task of strengthening democracy, especially in our challenging region, and especially when more than 20 percent of Georgia territory remains under Russian occupation.
Likewise, we are proud to say that Georgia has always stood adamantly next to the United States in every single situation when a strategic decision was required to be a U.S. ally, and we are proud of those decisions. Let me reiterate that we attach critical importance to our strategic partnership with the United States, with the charter as the main framework of our comprehensive, cross-dimensional agenda of cooperation. The virtually all-encompassing nature of all the four working groups – democracy and governance, security and defense, economy and energy, and trade and people-to-people and cultural exchanges – duly reflect up in the range of our cooperative endeavors. Georgia-U.S. relations are being developed in a gradual and consistent manner in these four major areas.
But let me step back to say that we have already achieved substantial progress in all spheres of our bilateral cooperation. While first of all Georgia and the United States enjoy successful cooperation in security and defense, we are actually making progress in fulfilling President Barack Obama’s pledge to bolster our cooperation aimed at enhancing Georgia’s defense capabilities. It is also important that we are consistently broadening scopes of our enhanced defense cooperation. The United States support enables us to significantly progress in defense transformation process. In fact, NATO has been vocal in duly crediting Georgia for successful defense and security reforms, and as a reliable ally and security provider, we remain firm on our full-fledged commitment to the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan, much like the post-ISAF mission. We will commence our participation in the NATO Response Force in 2015 and in 2016 with the assistance of our American friends.
Herewith, I would like to thank the United States for outstanding support provided to our wounded warriors. This is extremely important for us. As you know, Washington’s political and financial engagement was always critical. We thankfully recall that United States was the first among our close friends to donate one billion U.S. dollars in aid to the people of Georgia after the August 2008 war. Furthermore, we have received a large chunk of investment of $140 million through the second MCC compact, which will be effectively spent on improving the quality of education in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The United States overall strong support and assistance on these and other numerous occasions continued unabated even during the financial challenges. And for the – for that, we sincerely thank our American friends.
We believe that Georgia’s continued close consultations with United States on the High Level Trade and Investment Dialogue are essential for bolstering bilateral trade and investment, including the possibility of U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and for that end, we expect to carry out – carry on our negotiations on the high level. And we will spare no effort to make substantial advancement.
Also, we hope that our American colleagues will be as swift and highly responsive to these as ever. For the moment, we will be consistent in utilizing Georgia’s outstanding potential and realistic aspiration for growth in its transformation into original business, trade, and logistic hub. As you know, the country is blessed with exceptionally advantageous location and potential to turning to the gateway linking Europe with lucrative Chinese markets through the Caspian Sea in the Central Asia regions. And we are devoted to this idea and plan to underpin these ambitions by continuous improvement to our transportation infrastructure and elimination of regulatory bottlenecks to trade via the region.
Let me say that U.S. aid has always played an important role in various directions, and we welcome their latest decision to select Georgia among those 20 countries’ participation in these – in the Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnership program. And undoubtedly, this is going to further enhance my country’s overall development in the vital areas.
Let me say this offer is well noted and very much appreciated. Our people-to-people relations have already brought about numerous tangible outcomes, one of them being the U.S. decision to further extend the visa validity terms for various categories of Georgian citizens. Moreover, many more young people now intensively benefit from the educational exchange programs, and we’re extremely grateful for that. And while looking ahead, we thank our American partners for these achievements and continue to explore other potential areas of cooperation for further success.
And to conclude, Mr. Secretary, I would like to express my firm confidence that our cooperation will progress further. In addition to many a common interest between our states, we are united first and foremost by the shared values between the two nations. And I do believe that our existing and prospective avenues of partnership are destined to succeed.
Once again, thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very, very much, Mr. Prime Minister. If you’d just take one minute.
I appreciate – I think our comments mutually dovetail, which is no surprise, and I think we’re on the same track. So hopefully, this economic vision and the security vision that you express is something that we can flesh out a little more in the course of the dialogue that will continue this morning.
Let me just say that I think in my opening comments, I shortchanged our relationship by ten years. I think it’s 22 years, not 12 years, which is more a reflection on my eyesight than on anything else. (Laughter.) But I appreciate --
PRIME MINISTER GARIBASHVILI: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- very, very much your being here. I do look forward to getting there. I think we’re trying to figure out some time in the spring, and I think between now and then, we have some work to do and I look forward to doing that with you. So thank you for --
PRIME MINISTER GARIBASHVILI: No, thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- taking the time to be with us today, appreciate it.
I think what we’re going to do now is ask the press if they would take their leave so that we can have the discussion that is going to follow from this, and we thank you all for being here with us.