NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left) and Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili at a joint news conference after a meeting in Tbilisi on June 26. Photo: NATO
Georgia’s PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said after meeting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Tbilisi on June 26 that Georgia “is taking consistent steps to become a member of the Alliance in the shortest possible time” and the NATO chief said Georgia “is closer” to the Alliance “but there is still work to do.”
Ambassadors from NATO member-states from the Alliance’s political decision-making body, North Atlantic Council (NAC), and the NATO Secretary General started on a two-day visit to Tbilisi on June 26.
After a bilateral meeting, the Georgian PM and the NATO Secretary General co-chaired a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission, the main mechanism through which Georgia’s cooperation with the Alliance is supervised.
In his opening remarks during a joint news conference after the bilateral meeting, the NATO Secretary General told the Georgian PM that “since you took office, your government has shown a clear commitment to reforms and to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”
He reiterated for number of times during the joint news conference and then in opening remarks at NATO-Georgia Commission meeting that decision of 2008 NATO Bucharest summit that Georgia will one day join the Alliance, provided it meets the necessary requirements, “stand as firm as ever.”
Rasmussen said that Georgia had already made remarkable reforms in many areas and the priority now “is to continue implementing reforms” and to demonstrate that democracy is “deep-rooted” and to ensure that the presidential elections in October, 2013 “meet the very highest standards.”
PM Ivanishvili said that he “assured” the NATO Secretary General that the presidential elections “will be much better and typically European.”
“It will be the last point at which the NATO members, the Europe and the entire international community will eventually ascertain and see the real face of the new government, which will ease our progress towards NATO,” Ivanishvili said.
The NATO Secretary General said that during the visit the North Atlantic Council would discuss “the work that still needs to be done, including when it comes to strengthening democracy and rule of law.”
The NATO Secretary General urged the Georgian PM to make political cohabitation work and to ensure “justice without political interference.”
Rasmussen and ambassadors from the North Atlantic Council will meet President Saakashvili on June 27.
‘Closer to NATO’
Asked if Georgia was now closer to NATO, Rasmussen responded that it’s now closer to the Alliance than it was in 2008.
“I will be straight, frank, open and say – when I look at the development in Georgia since I visited Georgia first time some years ago as then Prime Minister of Denmark [in November, 2008], then we have seen clear progress and during that period of time obviously Georgia has moved closer to NATO, because Georgia has implemented certain reforms and Georgia continues to implement necessary reforms. Having said that, there is still work to do – the Georgian government knows that, we know that – and in collaboration we will work and carry through necessary reforms. So, yes, Georgia is closer but there is still work to do,” Rasmussen said.
On the same question PM Ivanishvili said: “I think that [the Secretary General] gave a good answer. You [referring to journalists] want to hear whether Georgia got closer to NATO since the new government came into power – I think that the Secretary General avoided to be specific on that, but in overall I think that the stance is that we definitely have a progress… and after the [October presidential] elections this progress will be much tangible and visible and [NATO] will no longer avoid to specify it.”
He said he was not expecting from NATO to make a clear-cut statement on this issue now when his government was in power for about eight months.
“We have a period of cohabitation; we have a president from the previous government who is now in the opposition and of course they [referring to NATO] are shunning from making a distinction between these two governments. I think we received a very worthy answer [from the Secretary General] that we are closer. We will continue getting even closer and we will definitely become NATO member,” Ivanishvili said.
‘MAP Not an Issue which Should be Elevated’
In April PM Ivanishvili said that Georgia set a goal to get Membership Action Plan (MAP) from NATO when the Alliance holds its next summit in 2014. But speaking at a joint news conference with the NATO Secretary General on June 26, Ivanishvili said said it “is not an issue, which should be elevated.”
When a journalist asked the NATO Secretary General, with reference to PM’s MAP remarks made in April, what Georgia might expect from NATO’s 2014 summit, Ivanishvili was first to respond by saying that “as far as MAP is concerned, we are not raising issues in a principal way.”
“We will wait; the NATO members will discuss; then we will look and see what is real, what real step can be taken in this regard and we will focus on what will be realistic,” PM Ivanishvili said. “We talked [with the Secretary General] today that this is not a principle issue and that there are countries, which joined NATO without MAP. MAP is not an issue which should be elevated and be made as a new target. We will definitely make a progress, but we should not make main focus on wordings and especially prematurely… There should be a progress, but MAP should not serve as the only [demonstration] of that progress.”
Responding to the same question, Rasmussen said that agenda of 2014 NATO summit was not yet decided.
“So, we have not decided how the open door policy will be addressed at the summit in 2014,” Rasmussen said. “Secondly, I would like to stress that actually Georgia has chosen her own path towards what we decided in Bucharest in 2008 and that is a NATO-Georgia Commission, which is something very special. As you may know, only Georgia and Ukraine have special commissions.”
“Within the NATO-Georgia Commission we cooperate to achieve the goal we set at the NATO summit in 2008. So that’s also what the Prime Minister and I agreed today that we will now focus on those concrete steps towards fulfilling the necessary requirements and in that respect Georgia has actually made a lot of progress and I am sure that in collaboration we will achieve further progress,” the NATO Secretary General said.
Relations with Russia
PM Ivanishvili said that Georgia relations with Russia were also discussed during a meeting with the NATO Secretary General.
“Those successful steps that we had in respect of trade issues should be welcomed, but what is happening in parallel in respect of so called borders, involving shifting those wire barbed [fences] at some locations 300 meters deeper [into the Georgian-controlled areas], is alarming,” Ivanishvili said. “I still can’t explain it; doing such incomprehensible things by Russia against the background of those positive steps [related to trade issues] is beyond understanding.”
“I have assured Mr. Secretary General that we will be principled and at the same time consistent in our relations with Russia and we will do everything possible in order to sort out relationship with Russia so that not to let it hamper our NATO accession,” the Georgian PM said.
Asked about Russia’s opposition to NATO expansion, PM Ivanishvili responded: “We know very well that Russia has never been happy and will not be with [NATO expansion], but what matters is that the Georgian people are happy about it and we take into consideration [this stance] of the Georgian people. [NATO integration] is the choice of the Georgian people and Europe and Euro-Atlantic space is our strategy and we will continue [moving on this path] unwaveringly. That’s up to us and up to the NATO members to decide. I understand that Russia might not be glad about it, but I think we will be able to provide relevant explanations that it [Georgia’s NATO integration] does not harm Russia’s interests.”
‘Georgia is not in ISAF to Gain NATO Entry’
The NATO Secretary General, who expressed appreciation for Georgia’s “major contribution” to the ISAF mission, said that Georgian “soldiers are not in Afghanistan to gain Georgia’s entry into NATO.”
“In Afghanistan Georgian troops carry out a United Nations mandate as part of the coalition of 50 nations... And they are there to serve Georgia’s security interests, because by depriving terrorists of a safe heaven, we are also making our own countries more secure,” Rasmussen said.
The NATO Secretary General said that the Alliance was now planning new mission for post-2014 “to train, advice and assist Afghan forces after 2014.”
“This will not be a combat mission and I thank Georgia for its continued commitment to our joint endeavor,” Rasmussen said.
Ivanishvili reiterated Georgia’s commitment to contribute to post-2014 NATO operations in Afghanistan; he also said that Georgia was “speeding up” construction works of the railway that will link Azerbaijan to Turkey in order to use this route for reverse transit of the ISAF forces and cargoes from Afghanistan.
This is North Atlantic Council’s third visit to Georgia; the first one took place in September, 2008, when NATO-Georgia Commission, was launched and then in November, 2011.
On June 27 ambassadors from the North Atlantic Council and NATO Secretary General will meet parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili, leaders of the parliamentary majority and minority, as well as chairman of parliamentary committees. The ambassadors will then hold parallel meetings with media, civil society and minority communities’ representatives, as well as with representatives of the international organizations.
Defense Minister Irakli Alasania and Secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria will host an informal working lunch with the NATO delegation before the latter meets President Saakashvili. A joint press conference by President Saakashvili and the NATO Secretary General is also scheduled.
Also on June 27 the NATO Secretary General will deliver a speech to a group of Georgian students in the National Library and address those Georgian troops, who are now preparing for deployment in Afghanistan.