U.S. Defense Department official said Georgia was not ready for weapons acquisition, the issue pushed by President Saakashvili before the Vice President Biden’s visit to Tbilisi.
Celeste A. Wallander, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, however, also told a congressional panel on July 28, that the issue was “not off the table” in the future.
She made the remarks at the hearing of U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe after she was asked to comment about President Saakashvili’s statement made in an interview with The Washington Post asking the U.S. to provide Georgia with defensive weapons, involving anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems.
One of the members of the committee, Representative William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who spoke strongly against selling the U.S. weapons to Georgia, asked the U.S. Defense Department official: “If we are going to reset relations [with Russia], why add fuel to a volatile situation?”
Celeste A. Wallander responded that President Saakashvili made those remarks on need to supply Georgia with defensive weapons just before the Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Tbilisi and the latter had an opportunity to address the issue while visiting Tbilisi.
“He [the Vice President] was very clear… The United States supports a responsible and robust defense cooperation program with Georgia that is focused on improving Georgia’s [military] education, training, command capabilities building NCO corps,” Wallander said.
“But Georgia is not ready for the kind of weapons acquisitions that the President [Saakashvili] floated. In the future, that’s not off the table, but certainly the United States is not in the position of believing that Georgia is ready for that kind of defense acquisition,” she added.
Another issue Congressman Delahunt raised in respect of Georgia was Tbilisi’s willingness to see U.S. monitors joining EU monitoring mission, observing situation at the Abkhaz and South Ossetian administrative borders. He also spoke against of such possibility.
Wallander responded that Vice President Biden pointed out during his meetings with the Georgian leadership that EU itself had yet to decide whether or not to invite the U.S. and if invited then Washington would consider such suggestion. She said that discussions on the matter were yet “premature.”
During the hearings Wallander, as well as Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who was also present at the hearing dedicated to the U.S.-Russia relations, reiterated that Washington’s policy of resetting relations with Russia would not come at the expense of Georgia or Ukraine.
Gordon said that it was up to Georgia and Ukraine to choose security alliances. He also said that “there is lot of work” for these countries to do and the U.S. would continue helping them to meet NATO membership criteria.