Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished leaders, friends, I thank you for this great honor. I do consider it an honor to be given the floor in your Parliament.
I speak not only on behalf of myself as Vice President, but I speak for my President, President Obama, as well as my country. I come here on behalf of the United States with a simple, straightforward message: We, the United States, stand by you on your journey to a secure, free and democratic, and once again united, Georgia. (Applause.)
It’s a journey nearly a century in the making. In May of 1918, the National Council of Georgia — this very body, under a different name — declared independence, much as my own nation did 150 years before that. Three years later, you adopted a constitution, a brave declaration of your freedom and independence, even under the imminent threat of an attack.
One month later, the Bolshevik occupation was complete, and this parliament met for the last time until the end of the century. It was a journey halted before it began. But the journey renewed in 1989, as the cries for freedom rang throughout Georgia once again, only to be stopped one more time by the last grasp of a dying empire. Two years later, you declared your independence again, and a seed planted generations before became a rose about to bloom.
Georgia’s first post-Soviet experiment with democracy was tainted with civil strife, economic hardship, growing corruption, and a backward drift toward undemocratic rule. Then, just six years ago, the Rose Revolution sounded a clarion call for freedom and democracy that was literally heard around the world.
I still draw inspiration from that moment and the journey you have taken. I remember watching in awe as you stood straight and tall. So did millions of people around the world whose quest for freedom is not yet complete.
One year ago, as the Speaker referenced, I came to Georgia under very different circumstances. I was advised by many not to come. I was told that it wasn’t a particularly opportune moment. But I wanted to make clear why your independence was so important to my country and the world. Instead of standing in your parliament, I sat on the rooftop of a restaurant with President Saakashvili, as the sound of artillery fire and fighter aircraft punctuated the night.
On that rooftop, I pledged America’s support to Georgia in my status as the United States Senate. And I here today pledge it again, as Vice President of the United States of America. (Applause.) I pledge it not only on my behalf, but on behalf of President Barack Obama.
This visit, Tbilisi — to Tbilisi, comes deliberately right after President Obama’s trip to Moscow, for as he was planning his trip — (applause) — as he was planning his trip, he instructed me to plan my trip to Tbilisi.
Ladies and gentlemen — and I know that some are concerned, and I understand it, that our efforts to reset relations with Russia will come at the expense of Georgia. Let me be clear: They have not, they will not, and they cannot. (Applause.)
As I said in Munich in the first days after our administration was sworn in, and as President Obama, I might add, reasserted two weeks ago in Moscow, we stand by the principle that sovereign democracies have the right to make their own decisions, and choose their own partnerships and their own alliances. We stand against the 19th century notion of spheres of influence. It has no place in the 21st century. (Applause.)
We will not — we will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. (Applause.) And we urge — we urge the world not to recognize them as independent states. And we call upon Russia to honor its international commitments clearly specified in the [ *sic] 12 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of all forces to their pre-conflict positions, and ultimately out of Georgia. (Applause.)
And we support the expansion of international monitors throughout Georgia to promote peace and stability. During my visit last year, I was moved by the plight of families displaced from their homes in South Ossetia. And I was struck by the effort to undermine your economy by targeting critical infrastructure deep within Georgia.
I promised that my country would provide meaningful assistance to Georgia to help you recover. And today, I am pleased to say that the United States has delivered on that commitment I made of $1 billion.
Ladies and gentlemen, since August, we have provided supplies and shelter to those displaced, budgetary support to help your government meet its fiscal responsibilities, reconstruction aid to help those who were able to return home, and funding for roads and energy security; and new resources to strengthen Georgia’s civil society, legal system and independent media.
All in all, Georgia today is one of the highest per-capita recipients of U.S. aid in the entire world. Even where I come from, a billion dollars for 5 million people is a lot of money. We are also working closely with Georgia to modernize your military, with a focus on training, planning and organization.
We understand that Georgia aspires to join NATO. We fully support that aspiration. (Applause.) And, members of Parliament, we will work to help you meet the standards of NATO membership.
I am pleased that just last month, the U.S. and Georgia launched a Charter on Strategic Partnership. We set an ambitious agenda across four key areas: defense and security; economic trade, and energy cooperation; advancing democracy and the rule of law; and strengthening cultural ties between our countries.
Let me be clear about what our strategic partnership with Georgia is, and what it is not. The United States has no desire to create our own sphere of influence in this region or anywhere else in the world. Our goal is to help build a multi-partner world in which nations make common cause of common concerns.
These partnerships are not being built against anyone. They are being built to the benefit of everyone who seeks a more democratic, prosperous and secure world. (Applause.)
With Georgia, our partnership involves meeting security challenges — we are grateful, truly grateful that Georgian soldiers will stand next to our brave Marines in Afghanistan. It includes a commitment to energy security, and we welcome Georgia’s role as a bridge for natural resources flowing from east to west, as it did a thousand years ago. (Applause.)
It carries with it — this cooperation agreement — a determination to build stronger bonds not only between our governments, but among our people through cultural exchanges, entrepreneurial collaboration, and civil society cooperation.
Our partnership rests on a foundation of shared democratic ideals. That’s what you are about. And we will continue to support your work to fulfill the democratic promise of six years ago.
As President Saakashvili told Parliament earlier this week — and we expect that he will keep that commitment — that there is much more to be done. Your Rose Revolution will only be complete when government is transparent, accountable, and fully participatory; when issues are debated inside this chamber, not only out on the streets; when you fully address key constitutional issues regarding the balance of power between the parliament and the executive branch, and leveling your electoral playing field; when the media is totally independent and professional, providing people the information to make informed decisions, and to hold their government accountable for the decisions it makes; when the courts are free from outside influence and the rule of law is firmly established, and when the transfer of power occurs through peaceful, constitutional, and democratic processes, not on the street.
Ladies and gentlemen — I don’t mean to sound instructive — never tell another person what their political interest is. But I can tell you from experience there is no specific checklist for democracy. But there are significant, concrete steps that need to be taken to deepen any democracy.
Success requires the involvement of everyone in this room, of those who were elected outside this room. It requires every Georgian citizen, regardless of their political affiliation or their ethnicity, to take part in their government.
And I especially today call upon the young people of Georgia, the next generation of Georgian leaders, to continue to contribute their ideas, their voices, and their energy to help create a peaceful, stable, democratic and economically prosperous Georgia. Only then — only then will we see a Georgia that is the home to all its rightful citizens.
As difficult as this may be, I encourage you to keep the doors open to the Abkhaz and South Ossetians, so that they know they have other options besides the status quo. Instability or renewed conflict guarantees, in our view, a continuation of the unacceptable status quo, and it would discourage the foreign investment that is so essential to the economic growth and the economic progress you so badly need.
It is a sad certainty, but it is true there is no military option to reintegration, only peaceful and prosperous Georgia — a peaceful and prosperous Georgia that has the prospect of restoring your territorial integrity by showing those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a Georgia where they can be free and their communities can flourish; where they can enjoy autonomy within a federal system of government, where life can be so much better for them than it is now. Show them the real benefits of your nation’s motto: Strength is in unity.
Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen of the Parliament — divided, Georgia will not complete its journey. United, Georgia can achieve the dreams of your forebears and, maybe more importantly, the hopes of your children.
I’ll end with a phrase — a verse from maybe Georgia’s most famous poet. When I was in the president’s office I asked, "Who is that portrait of?" And he then gave me the history lesson on, again, maybe your most famous poet, a poet who inspired the journey of freedom in 1921 — and continues to provide his voice today. And I want to make sure I get this right. He wrote: "My heart burns with a holy flame that all my strength I may employ, to serve my people faithfully in sorrow and in joy. O let my people’s suffering be branded on my soul I ask, and let my heart, through good and ill, be equal to its task." (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, my President and I, my country, we pray that your hearts are equal to the task. I know they are, and so do you. And thank you so very much for not only inspiring your own people in completing this journey, but for the inspiration you’ve provided for tens of millions of people seeking what you now have within your grasp. And it is yours to guarantee.
We will stand with you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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