Tbilisi and Washington signed on January 9 a Charter on Strategic Partnership described by the Georgian officials as “historic.”
The document, signed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, is nonbinding; it outlines areas of cooperation and reiterates the U.S. support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and to Georgia’s NATO membership.
“Georgia is a very important partner of the United States; a valued partner. Our relationships rest of course on shared values… and this Charter underscores the principles and outlines the way to advance our relationship and our cooperation in defense, trade, energy security, strengthening democratic institutions, people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges,” Rice said just before the signing of the Charter.
“The U.S. supports and will always support Georgia’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity, as well as its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” she continued. “I know this Charter will help our two nations to realize our shared goals of creating more secure, democratic and prosperous world.”
“This is a historic day for my country,” Vashadze said. “The Charter… strengthens close strategic partnership between Georgia and the United States and stresses that countries, undersigning this legal instrument, share vital interests in strong, prosperous, independent, sovereign, territorially integral Georgia. This is something Georgia nation has been aspiring to and something which will bring Georgia to the Euro-Atlantic structure.”
"And we understand that this document and our strategic partnership brings not only rights, but also obligations to Georgia to be responsible ally, to be democratic, open, and liberal society," Vashadze added.
Couple of hours before the signing of the Charter, Grigol Vashadze told journalists in a conference call from Washington that the document had been negotiated between the outgoing U.S. administration and the Georgian government. He, however, added that as far as the outgoing administration was informing the incoming one “about every foreign affairs step, so this Charter was agreed upon with the new administration.” “I can’t tell you exactly with whom, because I do not want to go out with these details,” he added.
Mathew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told Tbilisi-based Imedi TV that the Charter in itself was not “a security guarantee.” “Security guarantees will come along with NATO membership,” Bryza said in remarks made in Russian.
The Charter reads that “deepening Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions is a mutual priority, and we plan to undertake a program of enhanced security cooperation intended to increase Georgian capabilities and to strengthen Georgia’s candidacy for NATO membership.”
Recalling the Georgian and Russian commitment undertaken by the August 12 ceasefire agreement “to the non-use of force,” the Charter reads, that the U.S. and Georgia “intend to expand the scope of their ongoing defense and security cooperation programs” to defeat threats to global peace and stability.
In respect of economic cooperation and energy security the document says that the two countries “intend to explore the possibility of a Free-Trade Agreement” and “to develop a new Southern Corridor to help Georgia and the rest of Europe diversify their supplies of natural gas by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.”
In respect of democracy strengthening the two countries “pledge cooperation to bolster independent media, freedom of expression, and access to objective news and information, including through assistance to journalists and media outlets.” The document also states that the U.S. would assist Georgia in further strengthening of rule of law and “increasing judicial independence.”
Reactions in Georgia
The Charter was mainly welcomed by the political parties in Georgia; some opposition politicians, however, said there was no need to create too much hype over the matter.
“The Republican Party of course welcomes closer cooperation between Georgia and the United States,” Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party told Civil.Ge on January 9. She, however, also said that more transparency was needed prior to signing of the Charter.
The Conservative Party was also calling for transparency in this respect, demanding from the authorities to unveil the text of the Charter before it was signed. Officials in Tbilisi said it was the U.S. side’s request to make the text public only after the signing. MP Davit Darchiashvili of the ruling party, who chairs the parliamentary commission for European integration, said the Charter was not a type of the document which needed a parliamentary ratification and a public scrutiny before the signing.
Salome Zourabichvili, a former foreign minister and leader of opposition Georgia’s Way party, downplayed importance of the document saying that signing of the Charter with the outgoing U.S. administration could hardly have meaningful practical results. “Mentioning of U.S. support to Georgia in the President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration speech would have had much more importance, than this document,” she said in December.
MP Petre Mamradze of the newly set up opposition party Movement for Fair Georgia, led by former PM Zurab Nogaideli, said that his party welcomed the Charter.
“We welcome this document especially in respect of Georgia taking commitments to enhance democracy,” MP Mamradze told Civil.Ge on January 9. He, however, also said there was no need of too much hype that preceded the signing of the Charter by the authorities. He said that “excessive PR propaganda” on the matter might only irritate Russia.
Nino Burjanadze, the former parliamentary chairperson, who now leads the opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia party, said in December that while the Georgian authorities were making more focus on the security and defense aspects of the Charter, it also contained important statements on democratization which she said was very important for Georgia.
Pikria Chikhradze of the New Rights Party said the Charter was “a positive development.” She, however, also told Civil.Ge on January 9, that “the Georgian society should not have over-expectations about this document and should not deem it as a salvation.”
The Christian-Democratic Party, which is a bulk of the parliamentary minority group, also welcomed the Charter saying that the party deemed the document as “a stability guarantee in the region.” MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of Christian-Democratic Party, said on December 22 that the Charter along with bringing some level of security guarantees “will also increase the level of the Georgian authorities’ responsibilities.” MP Nika Laliashvili from the same party said on January 8 that although the document was very important it was non-binding and there was no need for creating over-expectations about it.
Unlike many other opposition parties, the Labor Party voiced its criticism on the matter and said in late December that such documents would only fuel “confrontation of super-powers in Georgia.” The Labor Party said in early December that Georgia should give up its NATO membership drive.