There is a room for more common ground to be developed between the two major political forces in Georgia during possibly “complicated” period of cohabitation, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Thomas Melia, told journalists in Tbilisi on December 13.
“I think that there is a room for political leaders on all sides to calm the waters and maybe to look for a way to choose more sober rhetoric from time to time that might be a basis for consensus building,” Melia said.
The U.S. delegation, which also included Catherine Newcombe, a regional director for Eurasia at the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training, as well as USAID assistant administrator Paige Alexander, visited Georgia on December 12-13 as part of a regional trip. The U.S. officials met with Georgian senior officials, as well as media and civil society representatives.
“It may be complicated period of cohabitation that this country has gone into. I do see that there are patriotic Georgians, people of good will on both sides of the political spectrum here and I think there is a basis for them to work together to stabilize this transition so that the change that the voters of Georgia asked for in the recent parliamentary elections can be managed in a way that is consistent with stability and sustaining Georgia’s international commitments and domestic tranquility,” Melia said on December 13.
After meeting with the U.S. officials on December 12, PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said that he had received “lots of advices, including on difficult issues that we are now facing in Georgia and what we call cohabitation.”
“Complicated process that was initially, I think, now has already eased; there is more understanding from the international community, from the American administration and from the Europe as well,” PM Ivanishvili said.
Melia said that he had “a very honest and open conversation about issues where we have some concerns and also we expressed our appreciation for some things that are moving in a positive direction.”
“We are building a strong relationship with the new Prime Minister and his cabinet and encouraging further work on this interesting new arrangement called cohabitation,” said Melia, who also met President Saakashvili on December 12.
“I think there is room for more common ground to be developed here between the two major political forces in Georgia on addressing some of the very real challenges,” he said. “Both the Prime Minister and the President are receptive to this idea and I think that both are looking for ways to consolidate democracy in Georgia and we continue to cooperate in that way.”
Asked during a press conference on December 13 to identify key negative and positive developments in Georgia, the U.S. State Department official said that there were signs of readiness from some leaders from both major political forces to find compromises and added that the challenge for Georgia would be to reconcile majority rule with minority rights.
“One of the most interesting conversations I had here was a joint conversation with Mr. Usupashvili and Mr. Bakradze,” Melia said referring to Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili and leader of the parliamentary minority Davit Bakradze.
“We met together and as leaders of the two parliamentary factions they demonstrated the ability and willingness to collaborate on finding responsible and honorable compromises on those policy questions where compromise can be found and also to find a civil way to disagree, when the political forces can’t agree. I think that’s a very positive sign for the way forward for Georgia’s democracy,” the U.S. State Department official said.
“The way the majority deals with the minority, whether in Parliament or in society is an important test of democratic character of any country. A majority wins an election, but it’s important that they respect the right of the minority to have another point of view… I think that [will] be the challenge… to reconcile majority rule with minority rights and that’s true in many different aspects of contemporary Georgian society,” he added.
Asked about planned meeting of Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Switzerland scheduled for December 14, the U.S. State Department official responded: “We support Georgia talking to Russia about how to normalize and improve relationship.”
“We look forward to Georgia making its own decisions about how to best move forward with that dialogue and we encourage it,” Melia added.