Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania (left) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (right) at the welcoming ceremony in the Georgian Ministry of Defense in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. Photo: InterPressNews
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Sunday in Tbilisi that “shared goal to build even stronger military ties in the future, particularly in the light of Russia’s blatant aggression in Ukraine,” was reaffirmed during talks with his Georgian counterpart Irakli Alasania.
Hagel, who arrived in Tbilisi right after the NATO summit in Wales, said how to go forward with Georgia’s expanding partnership with NATO in the light of Wales summit decisions, Georgia’s possible role in U.S. coalition against Islamic State, regional security in the context of situation in Ukraine, as well as U.S. bilateral efforts to bolster Georgia’s defense capabilities were discussed during his meeting with the Georgian Defense Minister.
Hagel, who is the first U.S. Defense Secretary to visit Georgia since December, 2003, arrived in Tbilisi on Saturday evening. After the meeting with the Georgian Defense Minister, Hagel laid a wreath at the Heroes Square to commemorate the fallen Georgian soldiers and then visited together with Alasania Krtsanisi national training center outside Tbilisi, where U.S. marines are providing training to the Georgian troops for over a decade already.
Also on Sunday the U.S. Secretary of Defense met Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and PM Irakli Garibashvili.
‘NATO Summit Results Significant Victory for Georgia’
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with the Georgian Defense Minister, Hagel praised Georgia as “a committed and dependable partner” and pledged that the U.S. will continue supporting Georgia’s “ongoing defense modernization efforts”, as well as its drive to become NATO member.
He said that the NATO summit in Wales produced “an important milestone in Georgia’s efforts to join” the alliance. At the summit NATO adopted package of measures, including expanded defense capacity building efforts, more joint trainings and exercises, strengthened liaison and enhanced interoperability capabilities, which the Alliance said, will help Georgia to prepare for eventual membership.
“The minister [Alasania] and I discussed how to move forward with all these efforts by leveraging the substantial package of measures with Georgia that NATO leaders just endorsed at the Wales summit,” the U.S. Defense Secretary said.
He said that Georgia became one of those five nations, which achieved “new elevated status” and “very significant amount of new standing” of enhanced opportunities with NATO; four others are Australia, Finland, Jordan, and Sweden.
This “special partnership” with NATO, Hagel said, gives Georgia “new options, new expandability, new possibilities working within NATO.”
“The eventual membership for Georgia in NATO is something that we are committed to and the process to get there is important. I think Georgia has to see results of the summit as significant victory for them and significant addition to what will be their capabilities,” the U.S. Secretary of Defense said.
Discussions on Georgia’s Request to Acquire U.S. Military Helicopters
Hagel said that the U.S. intends to make a “substantial contribution” to the package that was endorsed by NATO leaders in Wales, and at the same time, he said, the U.S. will also continue its bilateral capacity building efforts with Georgia.
According to the Pentagon, moving forward with Tbilisi’s desire to purchase Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters was among the issues discussed.
“The minister [Alasania] and I discussed necessary steps for Georgia to acquire U.S. military helicopters that they have requested,” Hagel said.
He also said that “pricing and availability” and other details of this request by Georgia was discussed and added that the U.S. is “constantly focused on how we can do more” in terms of increasing Georgia’s defense capacity. “We’ll do more,” Hagel said.
Hagel, who will be visiting Turkey after talks in Tbilisi, said that Georgia’s possible role in U.S. coalition to fight Islamic State was also discussed.
“The minister and I had a very good discussion on potential ways that Georgia could play an important role in this partnership with the United States and our coalition partners to destroy the ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] threat,” Hagel said.
Asked what Georgia contribution in fight against Islamic State might be, Defense Minister Alasania responded that as “a strategic partner and trusted ally of the United States, we fully support what the United States is doing to eradicate these barbarians.”
“We have developed quite an institutional building experience that will help probably Iraqis to put together their own armed forces. Trainings, exercises – these are the things that come to our mind, but as the Secretary [Hagel] mentioned in our discussions I think Georgia can play a supportive role in what they [the coalition] are trying to achieve,” Alasania said and added that discussions would continue further on this issue.
‘Putin’s Irresponsible Actions Pose Long-Term Challenge’
The U.S. Defense Secretary said that deepening ties between NATO and Georgia “are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions” of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia’s actions here [in Georgia] and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” Hagel said. “President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”
He called on Russia to “fully withdraw its forces from Georgia’s borders” and welcomed “the restraint Georgia has shown.”
“Let me remind you that this is an extension of what we Georgians have lived through past twenty years, especially the aggressive war against Georgia in 2008. It is more painful for us to see that the world was not able to put checks on the aggressive behavior of Russia [in case of Georgia] and now we are paying another price,” Alasania said, adding that NATO decision to create rapid response force was “the right move.”
“Of course the confrontation should be avoided and we hope the ceasefire [in Ukraine] will hold, but we have a bitter experience in Georgia with trusting Russian ceasefire, so we’d better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania said.
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