President Saakashvili spoke about “historic decision” by NATO Bucharest summit in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV, which was broadcasted on April 5.
In the pre-recorded interview Saakashvili downplayed importance of Membership Action Plan (MAP), which the alliance decided to delay for Georgia and said that Georgia had instead received a firm assurance from NATO that Georgia would join the alliance, which, he said, was much important than simply receiving MAP.
He also said that November events and controversy over the January 5 presidential election had “a zero” influence on NATO’s decision to delay MAP and Russia’s factor was the major reason behind that decision. Saakashvili also said that stressing on upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia was included in the NATO summit’s final declaration only after the Georgian authorities requested it.
Below is a full transcript of the interview:
Rustavi 2 TV: The authorities say that Georgia has received much firmer guarantees, but the opponents already criticize such an approach. Why is this decision by NATO firmer guarantee, than MAP?
Saakashvili: NATO accession process is a purely political one. There are no laws or rules set in advance; each country has passed its own way [towards NATO]. Previously, when western European countries were accessing the alliance, there was no MAP, or Intensified Dialogue and no other form leading to NATO-membership; there was a direct political decision to allow a country into NATO. Later, when it turned out that eastern European countries also wanted to become the members of the alliance – for example when the Czech Republic wanted to join the NATO – a special set of rules have been established, in that case the Intensified Dialogue. Then the issue of the Baltic States, as well as that of Poland has been raised; in that case a so called MAP has been established – a membership action plan.
What is MAP? A membership action plan is when a country gets on membership track, which is actually an irreversible process, because every country which had MAP, eventually joined the alliance, but theoretically it is possible that the country eventually may be denied in accession, or this may turn into an endless track. For example in case of Macedonia, it has been on that track for already 11 years, in case of Albania – nine or ten years. So MAP is a long-term process and in addition to that with no guarantees of eventual membership. For example Macedonia did not receive the membership, despite the fact that it is in MAP for over ten years.
Not a single country in recent fifteen years had received a guarantee of eventual membership in advance. The membership issue is something which is being decided on the very last moment. In case of the Baltic States that decision has been taken only after a burdensome all night long discussions; Americans, at that time, had to work hard, because there was a huge struggle, Germany was against of the decision at that time, but eventually it was decided.
What has happened in Georgia’s case? It is not a secret that there have been some large European countries, which were skeptical, mainly Germany. They were saying: don’t give Georgia MAP and instead let’s give ‘MAP minus’ or action plan for MAP or a roadmap towards MAP; shortly speaking the issue of extending MAP has turned into a political issue, they did not want to give us MAP and instead were offering something that is less than MAP, through which it is possible to eventually get the MAP, after which it is some day possible to get the eventual membership.
Very, very intense discussions took place.
Rustavi 2 TV: Those discussions behind the scene are very interesting. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer [the NATO Secretary General] has declined to speak about it. What kind of discussions were taking place behind the scenes?
Saakashvili: I’ll tell you what I know. We are not NATO-members, so we are not participating in that. But of course all of our friends [within NATO] were telling us what was happening there.
First of all we have to mention that the United States has undertaken extraordinary diplomatic efforts. It has been extremely rarely that the U.S. administration fought so hard for an issue as it was in case of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s NATO integration.
President Bush, at first, held consultations with all of those who shared the U.S. position about the matter, for example with Danish Prime Minister [Anders Fogh] Rasmussen – and Denmark was extremely active in this respect. President Bush phoned for several times to President Sarkozy, as well as to Chancellor Merkel and held consultations about the matter. Secretary of State Rice has held consultations about the issue with her European counterparts. President of Poland sent letters to many leaders about this issue. Poland, with its 40 million population, is an important member of NATO. Presidents of the Baltic States worked so actively that even our ambassadors could not have worked like that – like [Lithuanian] President [Valdas] Adamkus and Estonians and Latvians.
Then the summit day came. Nothing was clear before the last minute. On the very first day several European countries, in particular Germany and two or three other states, who said that they were not against [of Georgia’s MAP] in principle, but because of several factors – and it is clear it was Russia’s factor – they said not to take this decision now, because the MAP was interpreted as giving a signal that NATO accession process might become – I want to stress – might become irreversible. They argued that giving MAP could have been interpreted as a guarantee that [Georgia and Ukraine] would join the NATO.
Then the Americans said in a response: let’s give them MAP, but at the same time let’s indicate in the text that this is not a guarantee for anything; let’s write there that this does not mean a membership. But this proposal has again stirred controversy. [Skeptics] again said: don’t decide about MAP now; they said: let’s write that NATO’s door remains open, every country in general has a right to join the NATO, but don’t right concretely about these two countries [Georgia and Ukraine]; they were arguing that any kind of indication that these two countries would become NATO members would be problematic.
Rustavi 2 TV: Which countries were the most active and how did skeptics agree on the final text?
Saakashvili: Consultations continued till 6am. We have been watching this process from outside, because of course we are not participants of that process [internal discussions between the allies]. This is a consensus-based process, which means that even if Iceland says No – although Iceland was a very active supporter of ours – to Georgia’s integration, the process will be thwarted. No agreement was reached despite those consultations which lasted till 6am.
Discussions resumed at 7:30am. But no agreement was reached. According to the schedule the session should have ended at 11am and the NATO Secretary General’s news conference was planned for noon – that was the deadline [for taking a final decision].
We thought it was thwarted, but suddenly we have received a message from one of our friends, that several countries, led by the United States, were refusing to leave the meeting [without having a decision on Georgia and Ukraine]; some have even said that there would not be any communiqué [without a decision on those two countries]; some eastern European states have even noted that they would even raise the issue of their relations in frames of EU; they said that they would use their levers within the EU and bloc decisions related with relations with Russia, if there was no decision on Georgia and Ukraine. This was absolutely unprecedented; those countries have put the issue of Georgia’s NATO-membership at the same level to their strategic national interests. They said it directly that they would revise agreements within EU, because that organization was also based on consensus.
Rustavi 2 TV: Will you name those countries?
Saakashvili: It is not a secret; these are the Baltic States, Poland – they have fought [over the matter] like they would fight for their most desirable goals. We should remember who were beside us for this very important moment and how they fought for us. I have never seen President Bush – he is always a very principled - fighting so desperately. Which small country has such a support – not counting Israel, which is in a different context?..
So in this, I would say, tense situation, when the issue of final communiqué was on the verge of being thwarted, a line in the final declaration appeared saying that today the allies agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO.
Shortly speaking this summit gave us political and legal guarantee that we will become NATO members. Not a single country in past 15 years – since the launch of new wave of NATO expansion – has received this kind of guarantee.
As far as MAP is concerned, it is no longer a political issue, it has actually been downgraded to a technical matter, which will be decided by [the NATO] foreign ministers [at the meeting in December]; the summit said let them [the foreign ministers] decide [about giving MAP to Georgia and Ukraine] when and how.
But I want to repeat that MAP is not a guarantee of membership. What is the most important the NATO said: whatever happens – and there are no conditions at all – Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members...
Rustavi 2 TV: Can you say that Russia was the only reason behind the decision not to extend MAP at this summit?
Saakashvili: If you pay attention to public statements [made by skeptic states], the only fundamental reason they were indicating on was Russia’s factor. Of course there might be various speculations; but I think no one has any illusions about this issue. But… such a rough interference by the Russian diplomacy has brought absolutely opposite result [for Russia]. I have seen the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which said that this decision by NATO was a strategic mistake. And I have seen Russian journalists, who were very surprised, because instead to jubilantly dispatching news that NATO blocked Georgia’s and Ukraine’s NATO membership, they have seen NATO giving a [membership] guarantee, which has never happened in respect of any other country before.
I think this is really a historic decision; this decision is of special importance for Georgia; this is a decision of geopolitical importance for our region; this is absolutely new reality for our region.
Rustavi 2 TV: What threats we should expect from Russia; especially against the background of President Putin’s response reaction, when he undertaken an unprecedented diplomatic move and sent a letter of support to de factor leaders of [Abkhazia and South Ossetia].
Saakashvili: I want to say that it was unthought and absolutely unacceptable and dangerous – first and foremost for Russia itself – step by the Russian President. [Eduard] Kokoity [secessionist leader of South Ossetia] is simply a street criminal and Putin knows it very well; Putin himself told me this. As far as Abkhazia is concerned, no Abkhaz population lives in Abkhazia. Half a million people have been expelled from there. And recently everyone in the world has learnt that.
I think that our response to that should be very calm. It was kind of an impulsive and emotional reaction, but our response should be very rational and calm. Georgia of course is ready for any kind of complications…
We should have expected all types of misfortunes, in case of a refusal [by NATO] on MAP and on membership guarantees. Nothing is ruled out even now, but when NATO said whatever you do, whatever provocation, those countries would anyway join NATO.
Georgia’s territorial integrity is the most important for us and no other issue matters. I have told the Russian leadership for many times: let’s start resolving this; but nothing except of worse has happened in recent four years… We have no choice; to have good neighborly relations we need to be protected…
Rustavi 2 TV: The NATO communiqué mentions the May 21 parliamentary elections. How important these elections will be for a final decision of NATO?
Saakashvili: I want to tell you that the line saying alliance ‘looks forward for free and fair parliamentary election’ was included in the communiqué after we have requested it. It was our proposal in order to once again confirm that Georgia is on a democratic path. In the communiqué there is also written that NATO welcomes those democratic reforms, which have already been carried out in Georgia.
If any one – including Georgia’s ill-wishers – had an illusion that the crisis that erupted in Georgia last November and that controversy around the presidential election could have even slightly hindered our NATO integration has not come true. It has not come true at all and even I was surprised about that.
Rustavi 2 TV: Maybe it was not reflected in the communiqué, but did the November events, cases of human rights abuse, problems in judiciary influenced on the NATO’s decision?
Saakashvili: They had a zero influence. At first all these issues are a matter of evaluation and I think that Georgia is really…
Rustavi 2 TV: That is the major argument of your opponents.
Saakashvili: Tongue has no bones and everyone can say everything, but here is the fact. Georgia has a very good reputation – the Georgian state, not the Georgian government only.
I know we have people who are not only against the authorities, but who are unhappy with the success of our state. This is a weakness of mine as well. It means that we have failed to create among one part of political group a sense of their inclusiveness in the success of our country. This is a weakness of the government – I can say it openly. I do not blame them only and I will not start saying now things like others do: they are traitors, we have always had traitors – I will not say that. I think that this is our responsibility to make everyone part of the country’s success. There should not be a sense that this is only a success of Saakashvili. Saakashvili will not be the president in several years. I am sure we will join NATO during my presidency... This will happen for the first time that Georgia will be part of the strongest alliance. Why our ill-wishers are irritated by this? Because they want to get Georgia. But it is possible to get Georgia. It is impossible to get our territories. It is impossible under my government; but it won’t be possible to do that even if the most incapable government comes into power in Georgia one day, if we are NATO members.
So this is a guarantee of our long-term security and development.
Those people who are now our opponents may come into power tomorrow or day after tomorrow and they should all be part of the country’s success. We have much more to do in this direction.
Rustavi 2 TV: Last question Mr. President. Does the NATO final communiqué mean that in December we will automatically receive MAP in December?
Saakashvili: There was indicated – December, because the current administration in the United States will be changes in late January  and this is a fundamental decision, including by the current administration of the United States, to close this issue once and forever.
But I want to repeat it once again that this [granting of MAP] is a technical issue. The political decision has already been made. Previously a decision on MAP was at first taken and then the political decision, but now we have a political decision at first, which says that MAP in fact is turning into a technical issue. But of course we have work to do; of course we should continue reforms and of course there will be attempts to hinder the process. The political decision has been made, but those who do not want Georgia to be in NATO, will do everything to slow-down the process of implementation of this decision by NATO. We of course should overcome the challenge through our unity and calmness and through the help of our friends.