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U.S. Senators Meet with Prime Minister, Opposition, CSOs

Following the meeting with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, visiting U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Dick Durbin met with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, opposition politicians and representatives of civil society organizations on February 20. After the official part of the visit, the U.S. Senators held a concluding press conference.

Meeting with PM

According to the Georgian government’s press office, the participants discussed the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership and the progress made in various areas. They noted that “the partnership between the two countries is based on shared values and interests, Georgia is a reliable partner and a committed ally of the United States in the region and beyond, and appreciated the strong bipartisan support of the United States.”

The sides also underscored the importance of the visit “at a critical time for the European region and the world,” stressing that it is an important signal of the U.S. support to the public. In this regard, the Prime Minister noted that “Georgia is a clear example of how U.S. engagement and assistance strengthens the country’s democratic institutions, defense capabilities, and promotes economic growth.”

The participants also focused on the granting of EU candidate status to Georgia, noting the strong support of the United States in this process.

They also discussed the situation in the occupied regions. In this context PM Garibashvili said that he “welcomes the appointment of Louis Bono as Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations.” He also thanked the U.S. Senators for their unwavering support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The participants also discussed the security situation and challenges in the region and around the world, emphasizing the importance of peaceful conflict resolution.

Meeting with opposition, CSOs

Following the meeting with the U.S. Senators, MP Khatia Dekanoidze of the United National Movement said that they discussed the issues related to democracy, Georgia’s EU integration, “as well as political prisoners.” “Their main task is to make Georgia a full member of the Euro-Atlantic area,” she said.

MP Salome Samadashvili of the Lelo for Georgia party noted that the U.S. Senators showed interest in the reforms, which are required by the European Union for Georgia to obtain candidate status. “I also raised the issue of Nika Gvaramia,” she added.

“We should use such visits to find our new place in the world,” Elene Khoshtaria of the Droa party told reporters. “This visit is taking place in the midst of the complete degradation of democracy in the country, when the government is supporting Russia.”

Eka Gigauri, head of Transparency International Georgia, said: “We discussed the challenges we face in addressing the EU’s 12 priorities… They were interested in our vision of how to stop the democratic backsliding that is evident in our country.”

Batu Kutelia, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted that the issues related to corruption risks, the influence of authoritarianism, and the captured state were discussed at the meeting. “Democratic backsliding and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal rule was one of the problems we discussed,” he added.

The U.S. Embassy posted a photo of a meeting between the visiting U.S. senators and representatives of Georgian civil society organizations, saying “the United States will continue supporting Georgian civil society and our partnership to strengthen the country’s institutions.”  

Senators’ Press-Conference

At the end of their visit, senators Shaheen and Durbin held a press conference.

When asked about the the connection between EU’s 12 priorities and imprisonment of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and of Mtavari Channel founder, Nika Gvaramia, Senator Shaheen stressed that “freedom and human rights are absolutely critical to a democracy.” She further stressed that: “A functioning democracy must have a free press who can investigate and look up what’s happening without fear that they are going to be out in jail or be intimidated.” 

The senators refrained from commenting on specific legal charges brought against the former President. Instead, they stressed that it is the responsibility of the Georgian Government to take care of any prisoner and, as said by senator Durbin, to be” humane” and prevent any future harm.

To the question on the “shadow rule” of Bidzina Ivanishvili and whether the issue had been addressed during the meeting with Prime Minister and President of Georgia, senator Shaheen clarified that Ivanishvili’s name did come up during the discussion but that it was a “private conversation,” not disclosing any further details on what had been said. Nonetheless, the Senator did add that Ivanishvili’s name came up alongside the issue of de-oligarchization as a part of the discussion of the 12 recommendations. 

Senator Durbin called the Georgian government to “take these recommendations very seriously” and to go beyond focusing on passing legislation, paying equal attention to the enforcement of those laws. 

When asked about the “Draft Law on Foreign Agents” Senator Shaheen stressed that “the law that has been introduced in Georgia’s legislature is not the same as the U.S. law” drawing parallel between the Georgian draft and its Russian and Hungarian analogues, which are recognized to be inconsistent with EU standards.

Regarding the question about West “dragging Georgia into war”, Senator Durbin briefly answered that the U.S. is making sure to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia and making sure that Russia does not do more harm in the future, rejecting the claims about the “opening of the second front.”

When asked about Anaklia port and whether American investors would be interested in investing in it, Senator Shaheen pointed out that she and Senator Durbin had sponsored legislation to “ask the U.S. administration to come up with a strategy relative to the Black Sea.” She highlighted the strategic importance of the Black Sea region and expressed hope that more American businesses would invest in Georgia’s economy. 

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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