Georgian Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, and chairman of the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, GD MP Tedo Japaridze, met in Washington with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns on July 19.
“They had a great conversation discussing a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including upcoming presidential elections in Georgia, the Geneva International Discussions on the conflict in Georgia, and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic trajectory. Deputy Secretary Burns reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia’s democratic development, its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and expressed gratitude for Georgia’s strong commitment to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan,” the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi said on July 20.
According to the Georgian Foreign Ministry bilateral strategic partnership, internal political situation in Georgia, upcoming presidential elections, as well as relations with Russia were discussed during the meeting.
FM Panjikidze and GD MP Japaridze were part of the Georgian delegation, which started visit to the U.S. earlier this week and which also included chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili, as well as lawmakers from the GD parliamentary majority group Tina Khidasheli; Davit Onoprishvili and Irakli Chikovani.
The delegation members held this week series of meetings with up to two dozen members of Congress, as well as with representatives of the U.S. administration and some Washington-based think-thanks and Georgia watchers.
With the meeting with the Deputy Secretary of State the Georgain Foreign Minister wrapped up her visit to the United States from where she will depart to Brussels to participate in the EU-Eastern Partnership foreign minsiters meeting on July 22. Chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili is heading back to Tbilisi, but some other members of the delegation stay; MPs Khidasheli and Japaridze will be in California next week for a meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Condolizza Rice.
MP Japaridze said that from California he would head back to Washington where he would continue meetings with some members of the Congress, among them with Representative Michael Turner, a Republican from Ohio, with whom the Georgian delegation has already met earlier this week.
Congressman Turner sponsored an amendment to the U.S. Defense Authorization Act, which was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives last month, saying that Georgia’s new government “has taken a series of measures against former officials and members of the current political opposition that appear to be motivated by political considerations.” It says that the arrest of former PM Vano Merabishvili “is especially troubling”. “The measures taken by the Georgian Government against former officials and political opponents, apparently in part motivated by political considerations, may have a significant negative impact on cooperation between the United States and Georgia, including efforts to build a stronger relationship in political, economic, and security matters, as well as progress on integrating Georgia into international organizations,” it reads.
The Georgian government officials are now lobbying for this amendment to be removed from the U.S. Defense Authorization Act before the final version of this voluminous bill is agreed by a House and Senate conference by the end of this year. Last month the Georgian government officials and some GD MPs suggested that this amendment was a result of lobbying efforts from President Saakashvili’s UNM party.
MP Tina Khidasheli said after the meeting with Congressman Turner that “the problem in respect of this issue was in miscommunication.” “We do not expect any problems in this regard any more. Georgia will have full support from its strategic partner. The main message we are receiving from these meetings is that Georgia has more and more friends in the U.S. House and Senate,” MP Khidasheli said.
On the first day of the visit, the Georgian delegation met on July 16 with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Senator Shaheen raised issue of Georgia at Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on July 11 during a confirmation hearing of Victoria Nuland, who has been nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Senator Shaheen said at the hearing that she was concerned that PM Ivanishvili’s government arrested some former government officials, who are now in the opposition, and asked Nuland to assess the progress going under the new Georgian leadership.
“I share your concern,” Nuland responded. “Georgia has come so far in recent years, including the elections last year, then the peaceful transfer of power; the development of a vibrant multi-party parliament; greater media freedom; the efforts to curb police and prison abuses and the continuity in foreign policies. But nobody wants to see Georgia slide backwards. We completely understand that this government ran and won on a platform of redressing past abuses, but we believe strongly in the primacy of rule of law. And this cannot become cover for political retribution or even the perception of political retribution.
There's got to be full transparency. There's got to be due respect for rule of law. Because the world is watching and this goes to the heart of Georgia's own aspirations, which we support, to join fully all the trans-Atlantic organizations. So Georgia's got to stay on a democratic path.”
Nuland, a career foreign service officer who until recently served as a spokesperson for the Department of States, also said that she was “concerned” about Georgia’s economy. “So we want to see Georgians looking forward, not looking backward,” she added.
The delegation members also met House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, a California Republican; as well as Republican Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart, Steve Chabot, Joe Wilson, Sean Duffy, Adam Kinzinger, Tom Price, and Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger; Democratic Congressmen Albio Sires, Eliot L. Engel, John Garamendi, Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey and House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
Meetings were also held with Republican Senators John McCain, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Roger Wicker, as well as with Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein, Ben Cardin and Christopher Murphy.
Georgian Foreign Minister Panjikidze and MP Onoprishvili, who chairs parliamentary committee of finance and budget, also met ambassador Miriam Sapiro, the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative. Possible free trade agreement between the U.S. and Georgia and deepening trade ties between the two countries was discussed, according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry.