Parliamentary election has been a litmus test for Georgia’s democracy and “a very important part of this test has been passed”, James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said in Tbilisi on October 18.
He said that NATO foreign ministers would likely recognize it when they meet in December, but NATO had yet to decide what might be further steps forward in relations with Georgia.
Appathurai, who met in Tbilisi with Secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria and acting Foreign Minister in outgoing government Grigol Vashadze on October 18, will also meet with incoming PM Bidzina Ivanishvili.
He said that ongoing democratic transfer of power following the elections “is the sign and a demonstration of Georgia becoming a normal country.” He also said that this change was also made possible because of reforms ongoing in Georgia over the years.
“The Secretary General communicated this both to President Saakashvili and Mr. Ivanishvili that elections were and are a litmus test and a very important part of this test has been passed,” Appathurai said while speaking at a news conference after meeting with Vashadze.
“We are not quite finished with the process, we are now in the transition process and that is something which has to be managed carefully and respectfully, and as I said, in respect also of the laws and constitution and that’s what’s happening and that’s very, very good.”
“But we will continue to watch, like whole international community, how this transition process happens,” Appathurai said.
He said that the NATO would watch this process of transition not only just at the very top level in terms of new ministers taking offices, but also how the transition takes place within the ministries in terms of how they “maintain professionals, who can do the work that is necessary for reform and cooperation with rest of the international community.”
“We are very encouraged by the way this has happened. What this will mean for Georgia’s relations with NATO, we of course have to see… We will continue to work with Georgia to support the reforms and steps necessary to bring Georgia closer to NATO and finally into NATO,” he said.
President Saakashvili said on October 12 that democratic conduct of the October 1 parliamentary elections would help Georgia to get closer to NATO membership; he also said that “it will be possible to make new decisions” when NATO foreign ministers meet in December.
Asked what Georgia might expect from this foreign ministerial meeting, Appathurai responded that the NATO Allies had not yet discussed what might come next.
Appathurai did not rule out holding of the NATO-Georgia Commission session during the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in December; he, however, also said that NATO had not yet even discussed what kind of meetings might take place on the sideline of the foreign ministerial meeting.
“The Allies have not yet discussed how they wish to characterize either the elections or what will come next… The Allies did say that these elections were an important test; it’s a test, that in my view and I know in Secretary General’s view, is being passed; they will wish to recognize that and then we will see how they characterize whatever steps forward we might envision in the relationship,” he said.
Secretary of Georgian National Security Council, Giga Bokeria, said after meeting with Appathurai that after successfully passing the test with holding democratic elections and transfer of power, “it is important to renew discussions on further progress on the path of Georgia’s NATO membership and to renew these discussions very soon.”
“So in this regard, this visit [by the NATO Secretary Generals special representative] is very timely,” Bokeria said. “I hope that Mr. Appathurai will hear the same message, which he heard from us that this course [towards NATO membership] is unwavering and it should be maintained, from incoming PM [Ivanishvili] as well.”
Appathurai said that he heard “encouraging public remarks from the incoming government, reflecting broad will of the people for Georgia’s [NATO] membership.”
The Georgian Dream leadership has also expressed commitment to continue contributing to ongoing ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
“It is very difficult to speak about continuation of the mission, continuation of this policy, when a couple of days ago we lost one more Georgian guy; but we all should understand that this is the obligation of our state; this is a burden, which Georgia assumed for ensuring international security,” Irakli Alasania, one of Georgian Dream leaders and incoming Defense Minister said on October 17 after visiting a family of a Georgian soldier who died in Afghanistan last week.
“The withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan will start and is planned by 2014. Just afterwards we will start thinking about the return of our guys to their homeland,” Alasania added.
Georgia’s outgoing government has pledged to continue contributing to NATO mission in Afghanistan by providing training to Afghan security forces after the foreign combat troops exit in 2014.
Appathurai said that while it was clear from the public comments of the incoming authorities that they would continue contributing to ISAF’s ongoing mission, during his planned meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili he would try to find out the incoming PM’s position on post-2014 mission.
He said that Georgia had already been included in the planning of post-2014 NATO mission in Afghanistan.
“Georgia is a core partner for us and we did not even want to do the planning without Georgia; they are at the table, it’s a small group of countries that is part of that planning,” he said. “It is also based on hope and to a certain extent on presumption that Georgia will wish to contribute in substantial and concrete way to the post-2014 mission.”