Remarks With Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Public Service Hall
Batumi, Georgia
June 5, 2012

PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI: Madam Secretary, I will speak in English (inaudible). They have heard me already speak in Georgian many times.

It is an immense pleasure to welcome you here again today in Georgia. You have always been an outstanding friend of our nation. I want, in the name of Georgian people, our multiethnic nation, to express our deep gratitude to you, Hillary, for your personal leadership on all our issues and your longstanding support for Georgia’s democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, if Georgia is today an independent state progressing at a good path on its way to the EU and NATO, it is, of course, first thanks to the Georgian people’s commitment and courage. But the support of the United States of America throughout all these 20 years, and in particular the support of President Obama and Secretary Clinton in the recent period, was instrumental, fundamental for our survival and our continued success.

I want to commend here the firm commitment of the U.S. to our sovereignty, our territorial integrity within our legitimate borders. Its constant help in our reform process, its firm denunciation of the illegal occupation of our territories, and it repeated calls for the rights of hundreds of thousands, around 500,000 internally displaced persons of Georgians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, to go back to their houses. This American policy allows the Georgian democratic sphere to overcome key challenge as it achieves striking results. The partnership between our two nations is made from shared values and for its purpose – standing up for freedom and also of its common interests.

Secretary Clinton’s visit, the strategic partnership charter meeting, and the discussions held today constitute another step forward in the constant enhancing of our cooperation. These talks are following the meeting held with President Obama at the White House in January – really very interesting talks and meeting – they allowed us to progress on all objectives that were set last January. Our security cooperation is on the right track. Today’s ceremony with the coast guard was a good symbol of our progress in that matter, the (inaudible) process of enhancing our self-defense capacity is now real and concrete. The U.S. is committed to it, and the forward steps were discussed today.

I welcome our (inaudible) close cooperation in order to ensure the irreversibility of the Georgian democratic reforms. My government is committed to have free and fair parliamentary elections this October. Georgia’s public attachment to democracy (inaudible) is expressed in the Rose Revolution, and (inaudible) ever since, so I am sure that these elections will express the free will of the Georgian people.

And I also welcome (inaudible) support to our request for international observation missions. We really want to have as many legitimate observers in place as we can get to make the transparent – elections as transparent, as fair, as trustworthy as we can get. Your support, Madam Secretary, for my government calls toward minorities and to our commitment to an open, democratic, and multiethnic society is essential.

Progress on our people-to-people relations is good. More Georgians now travel to the U.S., including for study, and we have thousands of America’s teachers teaching English to Georgian kids here. We also would be – we are also grateful for the support for our policies of engagement of the Georgian citizens living in the occupied territories.

President Obama mentioned in January the prospect of a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Georgia. That has made Georgia the only country in Europe that might have eventually free trade agreement with the United States – quite a big privilege and thrill to get there.

I welcome the concrete process of high-level dialogue that has started since then and that will allow us to progress toward that amazing goal, which, as the American president has put, are in the mutual interests of the American and Georgian business.

Finally, I want to thank you, Madam Secretary, for your Administration’s leadership and your personal leadership of the decided question of our integration into Euro-Atlantic alliance. The last summit in Chicago was an important step forward toward that process for Georgia. The language of the communiqué, the meeting of the 28 allies with the four aspirant countries that put Georgia in the same group as the three Balkan states, and the words you pronounced during the meetings on enlargement perspectives and talking to them at length about Georgia’s continued reform and progress and success showed to everybody that Georgia was closer than ever to fulfill its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Your words in Chicago were like music to the ears of my people, I can tell you right now. I know that. We need for that to keep up the momentum for the course and to count on our allies’ commitment. We are confident of both, in a large part thanks to your unwavering friendship.

Thank you again. It’s a great honor to host you here.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and it is a great pleasure to be back in Georgia, and particularly to be here on the Black Sea and to see all of the development taking place in Batumi. When I was last here in Tbilisi, you showed me posters of everything that was happening in Batumi and urged me to come see for myself, and I’m very pleased that I have this opportunity to do that.

The partnership between Georgia and the United States reflects the energy, the entrepreneurship, and the dynamism of our people and societies. More than that, our relationship delivers results. You can see that just from what we have achieved in the past few weeks.

This morning, we held the third annual plenary session of our Strategic Partnership Commission, covering topics from bolstering peace and security to promoting global economic growth and deepening democratic values. We confirmed plans for a new agreement to help our scientific communities collaborate more closely.

We also discussed the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s plan to move forward with its second compact with Georgia, a show of confidence in Georgia’s future. Reforming and modernizing Georgia’s defense establishment is also one of our shared priorities. Earlier today, I attended the commissioning of a coast guard vessel that the United States and Georgia refurbished together to help Georgia defend against threats from terrorism, drugs, and human trafficking.

We also discussed Georgia’s commitment to the ISAF operations in Afghanistan, including your pledge to help sustain the Afghan National Security Force after the 2014 transition. Georgian troops fight bravely alongside American forces in Afghanistan, and we greatly honor their courage and sacrifice. Georgia is already the largest per capita contributor of troops to our efforts in Afghanistan, and we thank you for sending a second battalion which will make you the largest non-NATO contributor.

We have also agreed this year on several new areas of defense cooperation. The United States will provide training and support for Georgian defense forces to better monitor your coasts and your skies. We will help upgrade Georgia’s utility helicopter fleet so it can more easily transport supplies and people throughout your country. We are also going to help Georgia give its officers the 21st century training they need for today’s changing missions. With these efforts, Georgia will be a stronger international partner with an improved capacity for self-defense.

Of course, Georgia’s long-term security and prosperity will depend in large part on the quality of your democracy. And this is a moment of great opportunity for your country. The United States will stand with the Georgian people as you take the next steps to strengthen the rights, freedom, and opportunities of all your citizens. Every Georgian deserves to live in a tolerant, democratic, inclusive society.

Today, I met with leaders of opposition parties and discussed their vital role in deepening Georgia’s democratic development. The United States believes competing energies and ideas drive the democratic process. Civic activism, open debate, a level playing field, citizens’ access to information are all vital as you move toward parliamentary elections and then presidential elections. We expect Georgia will hold free and fair elections this fall, and then complete a democratic transfer of power in 2013. And we believe that every party and every candidate should respect the political process, and we look forward to welcoming a strong relationship with those that the Georgian people choose.

Let me also say, as both President Obama and I have repeated many times before, the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. Today we also discussed ways Georgia can reach out to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, including providing status-neutral travel documents and identification cards. Soon U.S. Embassies and consulates around the world will accept the status-neutral travel document for any resident from these regions who chooses to use them for travel or study in the United States. This would be a strong step toward reconciliation that supports a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict.

Finally, when President Saakashvili met with President Obama in the Oval Office earlier this year, one of the key issues they discussed was how to increase trade and investment between our countries. And just last week we launched our new High-Level Trade and Investment Dialogue. This group will explore a range of mechanisms to continue strengthening trade relations between our countries, including the possibility of a free trade agreement between Georgia and the United States, an updated investment agreement, and other measures that could facilitate trade and investments.

This is a relationship that gets things done and has for 20 years, because after all, Mr. President, we commemorate the 20th year of our diplomatic relations. We’ve seen a lot of change in that time. Georgia has moved from a closed country under communist rule to an active member of the Open Government Partnership. We are meeting in a building, the Public Service Hall, that is a testament to the positive changes that Georgia has made. And I would like to say as someone who has the honor of traveling the world, so many countries, particularly new and struggling democracies, are looking to Georgia. They want to know how Georgia has accomplished so much in such a short period of time. I look forward to seeing where the next 20 years take you.

Now before I conclude, I’d like to take a moment to send congratulations to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the American people. For 60 years, the American people have admired her strength, her resilience, and her commitment to freedom and human dignity for all people. We join her subjects and people around the world in celebrating Her Majesty’s historic Diamond Jubilee.

So thank you once again, Mr. President, for your friendship and to the people of Georgia for the strong partnerships between our people and our governments. This is an exciting time in the history of Georgia, and we want to see you go from strength to strength and continue to improve the lives of the Georgia people as well as serve as a model for people everywhere. Thank you.

PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI: Madam Secretary, we don’t want to be – thank you so much for these very kind and supportive words. We don’t want to be left out, so we’ll join in your congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen and all the best wishes and wish her another hundred years of her very fruitful reign. And by the way, when you talk about (inaudible) Public Hall, on the right there you see the University – the American university that is being built in Batumi. And I can tell you the joke with this: If you go and look at this building now as it is, you would never believe it, but (inaudible) the highest building in the Caucasus, the tallest building in Caucasus, and actually, it will be the university that’s a symbol of democracy. And it shall be not just another university, but an American university. UCLA and other major American universities are right now organizing (inaudible). It was first ever American – fully American university in post-Soviet state because – there are some others, but they are not really run fully by American universities. And it will be here. And it was assisted by American Government through Millennium Challenge Corporation program. So we’re immensely proud and all of you are invited to the opening in September. (Laughter.)

Anyway, now you’re invited (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Yes. I’m not running the press conference (inaudible). (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Natia Gogsadze Rustavi

SECRETARY CLINTON: Wait, wait, wait, wait.

MODERATOR: Would like to ask in Georgian.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Natia Gogsadze's Rustavi 2. Madam Secretary of State, very soon we will have parliamentary elections in Georgia. And on the other hand, as we know, Russian Federation tries to organize its military exercise, military training will be coinciding with our elections. On the other hand, Mr. Putin made a statement and he said that Russia is interested in the results of the Georgian election. Therefore, there is certain kind of concern in our country about external intervention. To what extent is this threat possible? What is your take? What is your opinion about it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I believe that the 2012 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential elections are really in the hands of the Georgian people. I believe that they will be a crucial indicator of the progress Georgia has made on its democratic path, and the president and I, as I discussed also earlier with the prime minister, have expressed our hopes that this will be a model election that will provide a competitive electoral environment.

Now, I think the single best thing Georgia can do to advance your security, your prosperity, your democracy, your international reputation, is to hold free and fair elections that result in a fully democratic transition. And we praise Georgia’s initiative to open its early electoral process to a range of international observers, because monitoring is a key to ensuring fairness and transparency.

So yes, there will be military maneuvers, but the really important event of the fall will occur inside Georgia as the people of Georgia cast their votes. I cannot think of a stronger message that could be sent to anyone anywhere in the world than that. And so we will clearly continue to consult closely with the Georgian Government to ensure that we are standing with you, but the most critical event is not another country’s military’s exercises – it is Georgia’s elections. And that will speak louder than any military exercise could ever do about what Georgians stand for, your resilience, your strength, your commitment to democracy.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Reuters wanted to ask question, right? Yes, please.

QUESTION: President Saakashvili, can you categorically rule out the possibility that you might seek the prime ministership? And Secretary Clinton, do you believe that President Putin’s leaving the presidency to become prime minister and then returning to the Kremlin as president has set a bad precedent?

PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI: Well, first of all, I have to say Madam Secretary also was talking about this. The democratic transfer of power is a normal part of any democracy. And by the way, Georgia – it has already been happening for those of you who have been watching, because we moved part of the central government’s power, the presidential powers, to the directly elected mayor of Tbilisi, to elected city councils all around the country. We are continuing towards decentralization of that process, remove parliamentary (inaudible) on the posture, and actually that also means that more power is to be shifting to the regions from the – and powers of the regions. And I think Georgia has developed a number of very important institutions like (inaudible) that make – that – which will raise focus on institutions rather than all of its individual personalities. In this future political process, it is hugely important what the institution will do.

And since they won, I was in the office, I was offered this brilliant opportunity to turn myself into lame duck voluntarily, especially considering what kind of reforms we have to achieve and complete by the end of my second term. I’m certainly not going to cede to this temptation to do it, even for such a wonderful agency as Reuters.

But as I said, the process is there. Georgian democracy is getting stronger. And ultimate that matters most of all to me and basically to my nation as well. Ultimately, people’s choice is the most respected one that – and I think that will be – ultimately it will make the whole difference, indeed. Today it made a difference; it will make difference in October; it will make difference next year and in the future.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals, and I’m not going to comment on the reality of another country’s leader right now. But let me just emphasize how important it is that the decisions that are made by Georgia’s leaders and citizens demonstrate a firm commitment to the building of democratic institutions. I think that’s what the president was just saying, that in any democracy, institutions have to be more important than people. Individual leaders should come and go, but institutions should be strengthened. And one of the ways of doing that is to have an election first for the parliament, then for the presidency, that are universally regarded as valid. That will speak volumes about where Georgia is on your path to a sustainable democracy.

MODERATOR: Thank you.


QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Lika Beraia, TV company Imedi --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Wait just one second. I’m sorry.


QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Lika Beraia, TV company Imedi. I have a question to Madam Secretary of State. Following the Chicago summit, Russia expressed its negative position regarding intention of NATO, and in this context it’s (inaudible) negative, particularly with regard to Georgia. Some analysts say that Russia has the right to use so-called veto. Do you agree with this possibility?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As we stated at the Chicago NATO summit, the United States and all NATO allies support Georgia’s aspirations for NATO membership, and we reaffirmed the Bucharest decision and all subsequent decisions. We continue to work closely with Georgia both bilaterally and through the NATO-Georgia Commission to support the goals that Georgia has set for itself in its annual national program. And we remain committed to supporting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we strongly support the principle that all countries, including Georgia, should be free to choose their own alliances, including their security alliances.

MODERATOR: One more question from Americans. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the leaders of China and Russia met today in Beijing and agreed to cooperate together more closely at the United Nations. President Hu said that this would enable them to put the global order on a more fair and more rational course.

What is your reaction to that? And is this a setback for your efforts to get a unified response to the crisis in Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we all have to intensify our efforts to speed a political transition, and that has to be the main focus of our diplomacy and our work, both with each other, within the international community, at the United Nations, and other settings, even as we increase political and economic pressure on the Assad regime. And I think it’s clear to anyone, I think it’s hard to reach any other fair and reasonable conclusion that after what we have seen in the last 10 days, particularly the massacre in Houla, that peace and human dignity will not be possible in Syria without political change. So I will look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues tomorrow in Istanbul. I will then be seeing Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan in Washington on Friday, and we believe there is a way forward and we’re going to continue to pursue that. And we invite the Russians and the Chinese to be part of the solution of what is happening in Syria.

MODERATOR: Thank you, all of you. Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you.

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PRN: 2012/ T65-09