U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has met Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze, as part of his trip to Georgia ahead of the NATO Defense Ministerial.
After the talk, the Pentagon chief and Georgian Defense Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Georgia Defense and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative.
In a joint press conference, Secretary Austin stressed the new initiative will serve as a “focal point for our security cooperation,” as the Georgia Defense Readiness Program is set to conclude at the end of this year.
“We are going to build upon the Georgia Defense Readiness Program by continuing institutional reform in the defense sector,” said the U.S. Defense Secretary. He named strengthening Georgia’s capacities for effective deterrence, fostering interoperability with NATO and modernizing Georgian defense forces as key priorities.
Secretary Austin pointed out that the “success of this initiative will require close cooperation between our countries so that we stay on track toward our common goals.”
The Pentagon chief emphasized that “the Georgian government must do its part by leveraging U.S. support to strengthen Georgia’s democracy and to make fundamental reforms to bring Georgia even closer to the West.”
“I wanted to be in person here today because the United States values Georgia as a strong strategic partner,” said the U.S. Defense Secretary. “And our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.”
Taking up a media question about the U.S.-Georgia defense relationship after the NATO mission to Afghanistan has concluded, Secretary stressed that his trip served to “reassure and recognize our partnerships.” He highlighted that the region is critical to the U.S., adding “we see a number of opportunities for security cooperation.”
He also responded to a question about the so-called 3+3 initiative, a proposed platform for Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. “I would just say that Russia, which currently occupies 20% of Georgia’s territory, should focus on honoring its 2008 ceasefire commitments before promoting any new discussion platforms,” said Secretary Austin. But he encouraged countries of the South Caucasus to work together to resolve disputes and strengthen regional cooperation.
Georgian Defense Minister said they “discussed threats and challenges facing the country, region and the world, and noted that our strategic partnership, based on mutual trust, has never been as solid and comprehensive as it is now.”
Minister Burchuladze added “solid partnership” supports stable development of Georgia and maintaining peace and security in the region.
Touching upon the freshly signed memorandum, Minister Burchuladze said Georgia is now on a “new level of cooperation with the U.S.” This will ensure Georgia’s defense capabilities and the highest degree of deterrence and interoperability with NATO, the Defense Minister said.
Minister Burchuladze noted that he and his U.S. counterpart went over Georgia’s 10-year plan for developing and modernizing its military. He expressed confidence that long-term planning will also help in implementing the new initiative.
Secretary Austin is meeting Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili later today.
After his Georgia trip, the U.S. Defense Secretary is set to visit Romania and Ukraine before taking part in the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels on October 21-22.
This article was updated.