In their joint press conference held this evening in Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) focused on the Russian occupation, Georgia’s NATO membership, and the country’s reform commitments.
Senator Shaheen, who visited earlier today the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia occupation line along with Sen. Portman, said “Russia is trying to intimidate and threaten countries that are moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration, towards the West, because they see a better life than Russia could offer.” She referred to Ukraine and Belarus, which the Senators visited before arriving in Tbilisi, along with Georgia.
“We want to support Georgia in this effort, to ensure that as you continue your efforts to reform democratic institutions, your move towards improving opportunities for the people of this country, the United States is your strong partner,” underscored Senator Shaheen.
Responding to a journalist’s question, she said “one of the issues we reinforced with the folks we met (alluding to the PM Irakli Garibashvili, Foreign Minister Zalkaliani, and the Georgian Dream leadership – editor’s note), was the importance of complying with human rights requirements, with free and fair elections, with electoral reform, the importance of agreement of April 19.”
The Senator said the upcoming local elections slated for October “will be under scrutiny… The United States will be watching very closely.”
“We came here to see friends. The U.S. has no better ally in the region than Georgia,” said on his part Senator Rob Portman. “The U.S. must continue to support Georgia in every way, that includes ensuring that Georgia’s democracy continues to strengthen, the prosperity of its people continues to improve, Georgia is stable to enjoy its independence and sovereignty.”
Senator Portman stated that both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. “all have the same view on Georgia” that “we have a special bond with people of Georgia.”
He said “this is a time when Russia is providing more pressure,” adding that “Russia continues to violate simple six-point plan that they agreed to.” The Senator also asserted that the Russian-installed barbed wires across the line of occupation “are not to keep Georgians out, that’s to keep people from coming from occupied territory into Georgia [proper].”
Discussing Georgia’s reform commitments, Senator Portman said:
“We also stand by reforms that are to be implemented [as per April 19 deal], that’s important in part because we believe that Georgia ought to be not just aspiring to join the West, but to join the West.”
“Georgia deserves to be on track to NATO,” the Senator went on, adding that the membership into the Alliance “requires certain reforms to be made… some are military reforms… some have to do with rule of law and democracy… We want to embrace Georgia in the West and that includes NATO membership.”
Meetings with Prime Minister, Opposition, Civil Society
Following their visit to the occupation line of Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia earlier this morning, the two senators met in Tbilisi with Georgia’s civil society leaders, including the representatives of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Transparency International Georgia, Social Justice Center (former EMC), and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), among others.
TI Georgia Head Eka Gigauri said at the meeting with senators they raised the issues of corruption, the “judicial clan” holding sway over the judiciary and the “improper implementation” of electoral laws. “A strong, vibrant civil society is a promising sign for democracy,” tweeted Senator Shaheen.
The U.S. lawmakers were hosted by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Vice PM, Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani. Senator Shaheen said they delivered to Georgian leaders a bipartisan message that “the U.S. supports Georgia’s efforts to bolster its democracy.” “To do this, all sides must abide by the April agreement [and] compromise to achieve results citizens want.”
Georgia is one of our closest allies in the Caucasus region, and the continued Russian occupation and aggression is deeply concerning. The U.S. stands with #Georgia.
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) June 3, 2021
On its part, the Georgian Government’s press office reported that the meeting focused on U.S.-Georgian strategic partnership, the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, as well as the Black Sea security, and close bilateral cooperation in this direction.
Following the press conference, the senators held a meeting with Georgia’s opposition leaders, where the parties reportedly discussed electoral and judicial reforms envisaged in the April 19 deal, the prospects for the U.S.-Georgian Free Trade Agreement and Georgia’s NATO membership, among others.
The meeting was attended by Nika Melia, United National Movement Chair, Badri Japaridze of Lelo, Giorgi Vashadze of Strategy Aghmashenebeli, Aleko Elisashvili of Citizens, Vakhtang Megrelishvili of Girchi, Zurab Japaridze of Girchi – More Freedom, Khatuna Samnidze of Republican Party, Davit Zilpimiani of European Socialists, Giorgi Khojevanishvili of For Georgia, independent lawmakers Davit Bakradze, formerly of European Georgia, and Salome Samadashvili, formerly of the UNM.