After opening the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission meeting in Batumi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with representatives from three opposition groups in Batumi on June 5.
Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of New Rights Party; MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) and three representatives from Bidzina Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, Georgian Dream: Davit Usupashvili, leader Republican Party, Tea Tsulukiani, deputy chairperson of Our Georgia-Free Democrats and Manana Kobakhidze, chairperson of Ivanishvili’s party, participated in the meeting.
Ivanishvili indicated last week that he wanted to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State one-on-one, not jointly with representatives from two other parties – CDM and New Rights, which Ivanishvili describes as “pseudo opposition.”
After the meeting opposition representatives noted that discussions lasted more than it was scheduled; they said that issues ranging from internal politics and upcoming elections to Georgia’s NATO integration and security aspects in the context of relations with Russia were discussed.
Davit Usupashvili of the Georgian Dream said after the meeting that the Secretary of State “said that she was aware of all the problems, which we are concerned about in respect of democratic institutions.”
“She said that she knows that media environment is monopolized by the authorities, that there are serious problems in the judiciary; she is aware of the cases of pressure on opposition activists and she said that the U.S. administration was paying serious attention to it and would continue working over these issues,” Usupashvili said. “We talked about what should be done from today up to the elections so that a key player – Georgian people – has a possibility to elect and to determine who will come into power. She also spoke about Bidzina Ivanishvili. She showed interest in what is happening around his citizenship issue. We submitted all necessary information and documents. Once again it was made clear that the United States supports free choice of the Georgian people. It clearly means that the authorities will not and cannot have the United States’ support; neither will the opposition have this support and we have never requested it. The U.S. support will be towards the Georgian people.”
“We have also talked about Georgia’s NATO membership issues,” Usupashvili continued. “We thanked the United States for their policy and position in the issue of Georgia’s security and territorial integrity. But we also said that it was possible to do more during these years in terms of building democratic institutions that would have brought us closer to NATO. The meeting lasted by 20-25 minutes more than planned because all these issues needed detailed discussion. Mrs. Clinton was very well-informed and informed objectively about the current situation in Georgia, thanks to the U.S. embassy.”
MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of Christian-Democratic Movement, said: It was a very interesting meeting and it lasted for over an hour instead of planned 45 minutes. We managed to discuss all the issues and listen to Mrs. Clinton’s opinions.”
“It was very important for everyone, both for us and for our American partners, to talk about those issues, which should settle the problems related to the life of our population, including the guarantees of security of our country. Elections are coming up; moreover, there are certain expectations about threats coming from Russia and from this point of view, we need the active [efforts] from the United States, one of the major guarantors of Georgia’s security, so that the Georgian society feel itself more safe and stable,” MP Targamadze said.
“Of course, we discuss elections as a part of the country’s security and we have discussed electoral environment in details,” he said, adding that the Secretary of State stressed on importance of having “a level playing field for political entities and for everyone in order to participate in political competition, elections.”
“We are very satisfied with this meeting and we hope that Mrs. Clinton’s visit will positively influence the election process, which is gaining momentum in Georgia,” MP Targamadze said.
Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party, said the fact that the meeting lasted more than it was scheduled demonstrated “the Secretary of State’s huge interest towards developments within the opposition and pre-election situation in the country.”
“I spoke about the importance of holding these elections fairly, freely and peacefully and to have multi-party [parliament] instead of one-party regime as a result of the upcoming elections; it applies equally to the ruling party and to the Georgian Dream, whose leader [Bidzina Ivanishvili] states that he wants to win constitutional majority,” Gamkrelidze said.
“We also spoke about what should be done in order to make media equally accessible for the opposition, as well as about measure to prevent misuse of administrative resources by the authorities and to foster efficient work of the inter-agency task force [on elections],” Gamkrelidze said.
“I have also raised Chicago summit results and thanked Madam Secretary for her support, but it is also important to know what Georgia should do to make realistic Georgia’s membership by the next NATO summit – one is of course democratic reforms, but what are other areas which should be addressed in this regard,” Gamkrelidze said, adding that in this context he also raised “the threat coming from Russia.”
“I also raised the issue of possible free trade agreement [with the U.S.] and what might be a timeframe for achieving that,” Gamkrelidze said. “We talked about our complaints regarding the current electoral environment. However, it should be noted that Mrs. Clinton was quite well-informed about the problems with media, use of administrative resources and a factor of fear existing in the country. She said that the U.S. administration was ready to give concrete recommendations to the Georgian government and the Georgian President to ensure holding of free and fair elections in Georgia. At the same time, she stressed that it is up to the Georgian people to make a choice and everybody should obey this choice and act in a way as Georgian people decides it – that is the U.S. position and it will not be changed. It was a very important meeting and in coming months we expect more support from the United States in order to hold free and fair elections.”