U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, said a message she is taking back to Washington after visiting Tbilisi on December 6 is Georgia that “is strong and Georgia that is moving forward.”
In Tbilisi she met President Giorgi Margvelashvili, PM Irakli Garibashvili, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania and Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani; she also met representatives from the civil society organizations.
In the evening, after holding a press conference, she met UNM opposition party representatives – parliamentary minority leader Davit Bakradze, UNM’s foreign secretary and former head of National Security Council Giga Bokeria and UNM’s political secretary MP Zurab Japaridze.
Nuland met MP Davit Bakradze also earlier on December 6 together with parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili. She said that meeting in which Usupashvili and Bakradze participated jointly “speaks to Georgia’s increasing unity.”
“It is a true pleasure to be back in democratic Georgia,” she said in her opening remarks during a brief press conference, noting “very good elections” and Georgia’s “success” at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius late last month when Georgia initialed Association Agreement with the EU.
She said that the U.S. will continue supporting Georgia as it prepares to sign the Association Agreement. Georgia aims to sign the agreement by September 2014.
“As we move forward, we urge all parties to work together to constructively advance democratic and economic development,” she said, adding that “challenges do remain”, involving ensuring rights of minorities, building of more independent and accountable judicial system and providing economic growth.
Asked about Georgia’s NATO integration, in particular in the context of NATO’s next summit in Wales in September 2014 and chances of granting Membership Action Plan to Georgia, Nuland responded that Georgia “has made very strong progress in its work to prepare for NATO.” She said that the message from the NATO will be “to continue to work hard to meet the Alliance’s requirements.” “We will assess where Georgia stands in September,” she added.
After Tbilisi, Nuland will visit Russia. She said that Georgia “almost always comes up when we talk to our friends and partners in Moscow.”
“Message obviously will be that the United States stands strongly for the sovereignty and territorial [integrity] of Georgia, that we want to see an appropriate relationship between these two neighbors and we want to see more progress to settle the question of occupation and ‘borderisation’, which is very dangerous,” Nuland said.
On breakaway regions, she stressed on importance of reaching out to the people living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and “to encourage them to participate in the growing democracy and prosperity that Georgia has to offer.”
She said that Tbilisi will be able to offer much more to the residents of the breakaway regions after benefits of visa free travel and free trade with the EU become available for Georgia.
“Georgia is offering a path to Europe and the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia deserve to be part of that as they are citizens of Georgia,” Nuland said.