Assistant Secretary O’Brien: Agents’ Law, GD Rhetoric Inconsistent with Georgia’s EU-NATO Aspirations

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien at a briefing on May 24 spoke about the Foreign Agents Law passed by the ruling party in Georgia, emphasizing that the law and recent government actions are incompatible with Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations and making clear that the U.S. decision to impose visa restrictions will affect both the MPs who supported the law and their families.

According to Alex Raufoglu, one of the journalists present at the briefing, Ambassador O’Brien noted that “it is unfortunate” that the actions of the Georgian government – the “violence and threats to civil society and occasionally opposition politicians,” the passage of a law intended to “stigmatize the very groups that help Georgia prepare for its European and transatlantic aspirations” – are the reason that has led the U. S. to question whether the current leadership is interested in continuing along the path that Georgians have chosen toward Europe and NATO.

Ambassador O’Brien touched upon the GD narrative that the West forces Georgia to forget its traditions and culture and tries to change it, saying: “We are at a stage where after several years of consolidation, of people recognizing that they are more safe and more prosperous if they join European and transatlantic organizations, it’s not a surprise that there are elements in some societies that feel that this forces them to change because they’ve risen to the top at a point when those societies were not integrating.”

Jim O’Brien reiterated U.S. support for Georgia’s integration into the EU and NATO, stressing that “this particular law, the rhetoric that surrounds it and the violence against protesters are all inconsistent with the choice of moving forward to the EU and NATO.” He stated that he had a very clear and detailed conversation with government officials about the specific reasons why this law is “inconsistent with the path that Georgia has set for itself,” pointing also to the Venice Commission’s opinion, which just recently made the same points, adding: “So this is a matter of whether… the leadership of the Georgian government is trying to change what it means to join European and transatlantic organizations, not whether our policy is changing.”

Commenting on whether U.S. decisions (visa-restrictions and initiated bills in the Congress) are coercive actions, O’Brien answered that when you make a decision to join a club, you don’t make up your own rules, “You play by the rules of the club you are trying to join.” He added: “…the point is that the actions being taken are incompatible with both the pursuit of membership and actually getting to membership.”

Regarding the visa-restrictions announced yesterday, Amb. O’Brien stated: “…I’ll make a technical point under the announcement of yesterday, we do not publish a list of names. It’s not what that statutory authority allows us to do, but we’ve made clear the sorts of acts that are of particular concern to us and it’s the effort to undermine democratic processes, in particular the use of violence and intimidation against those who come. And, you know, the way that the statute works, it’s not only the officials, but it’s their family members. And that, again, is not a coercive tactic.” He added: “As far as our additional actions, the Secretary noted that we are reviewing all the cooperation we have and I’m not going to preview additional specific actions.”

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