U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili shakes hands after signing a memorandum on deepening defense partnership in Tbilisi, July 6, 2016. Photo: U.S. Department of State
Visiting Tbilisi on July 6, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, signed a memorandum on “deepening the defense and security partnership” with Georgia, pledging U.S. support in areas ranging from defense acquisitions to enhanced information sharing.
Kerry said after talks with Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili that the bilateral defense cooperation memorandum defines “our security partnership and steps we will take together to further Georgia’s resilience and its self-defense capabilities.”
“The memorandum… will support the acquisition of defense and related articles to improve the interoperability, sustainability and deployability of Georgia’s forces… to be able to work and cooperate with the other forces of NATO,” the Secretary of State said.
“It will help in education and training, exchange of operational and tactical personnel in order to be able to improve operations between us,” he said.
“It will implement the best practices in the defense governance… It will include the carrying out of joint and combined exercises in order to share expertise,” Kerry said.
“It will include cooperation on enhanced border, maritime and airspace security and there will be increased information sharing,” Kerry said.
According to the Department of State the U.S. and Georgia intend to strengthen information sharing by number of measures, including maintaining arrangements that facilitate the exchange of information about “hostile actions and specific threats to the United States’ or Georgia’s security and regional stability”; cooperating on analysis concerning such threats; conducting joint threat assessments that include U.S. military facilities, assets, and personnel present on the territory of Georgia; improving technological capabilities to ensure exchanged information remains secure and safeguarded, and enhancing strategic communication to “better counter threats affecting stability in the region.”
PM Kvirikashvili, who signed the memorandum along with Secretary Kerry, said that the memorandum includes all those areas, which are “critically important for strengthening and increasing our self-defense capabilities.”
“This visit [by the Secretary of State] has brought concrete results for deepening bilateral cooperation,” PM Kvirikashvili said.
“The memorandum envisages deepening of security and defence partnership and cooperation, it is a very important document, which creates a framework for new cooperation, which… opens up new opportunities for Georgia to purchase defensive weapons; together with our American partners, it will help us to focus on self-defense capabilities. It envisages more joint trainings, which are very important for strengthening Georgia’s defense capabilities. So, this document is yet another confirmation of very important strategic partnership between Georgia and the United States,” the Georgian PM added.
Georgia’s Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, said that the memorandum includes “everything that our country needs for deterrence” in the face of existing threats.
She said that Georgian and U.S. officials will meet in Washington later this month to elaborate an action plan through which it will be possible to “launch implementation of this memorandum” before the end of 2016.
Senior Pentagon and State Department officials told the U.S. Senate foreign affairs committee hearing in early June that in its security assistance programs with Georgia the U.S. will be making more focus in helping the country to increase its self-defense capabilities. Over the past decade the U.S. assistance programs oriented mostly towards preparing Georgian troops for overseas deployments, among them in Afghanistan, with trainings focusing more on counter-insurgency.
Kerry, who is visiting Tbilisi before heading to Ukraine on Thursday morning just before the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8-9, said that although there has been a slowdown in process of Georgia’s NATO membership due to international challenges, it should not be viewed as a moment of despair.
Kerry said that the U.S. remains firmly committed to NATO’s open door policy and reiterated that the U.S. stands by the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit declaration that Georgia will become a NATO member and “we will stand by this statement in Warsaw.”
He said that “there have been reasons for slowdown in process” as there are lot of international challenges, among them related to Ukraine, Syria.
“But Georgia is already an important NATO partner and the people of Georgia should really look very positively on what Georgia has accomplished,” Kerry said. “So I would not view this as a moment of despair or a moment of setback, I would view it as a continuing process by which the confidence is built and timing becomes appropriate for the final steps to be taken.”
Kerry said that Russia’s “occupation and militarization of parts of Georgia’s territory are unacceptable.”
“We continue to call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under 2008 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions,” he said.
Elections ‘Litmus Test for Georgia’
In Tbilisi Kerry co-chaired U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission meeting to discuss priority areas – democracy, defense and security, economic, trade and energy issues, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges – identified in the bilateral strategic partnership charter, signed in 2009.
He said that parliamentary elections on October 8 will be “another litmus test for Georgia” and stressed on importance of electoral environment free of intimidation.
“Georgia has been a model of peaceful democratic change and of improving of electoral conditions for others in the region,” Kerry said.
“Free and fair elections will be an important step towards greater security, towards greater stability and towards prosperity for all of the people of this country. And in all of our conversations we talked about the need for an electoral environment that is free of intimidation and for continued progress to protect media freedom,” he said.
At a meeting with President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Secretary Kerry upcoming elections “will be a very important signal to not just NATO, but to the world about Georgia’s commitment to democracy and the direction you’ll be moving in.”
The Secretary of State said the upcoming elections would be one of the issues he plans to discuss when he meets opposition leaders on Thursday morning.
Kerry will meet leaders of UNM and Free Democrats opposition parties. Before departure to Ukraine, the Secretary of State will also meet Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili on Thursday morning.
During the visit the Secretary of State also announced the launch USAID-administered USD 15 million, 5-year Economic Resiliency Program to develop the skills of Georgian business people and improve income generation in rural households. The primary beneficiaries of the program will be ethnic and religious minorities as well as communities in the vicinity of the administrative boundary lines with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A memorandum of understanding was also signed on July 6 according to which the U.S. and Georgia will co-fund scholarships to double the number of Georgian students in the Fulbright exchange program.
John Kerry previously visited Tbilisi in December, 2008, when he was a Senator.
The previous time when U.S. Secretary of State visited Georgia was in June 2012, when the post was held by Hillary Clinton.