|Saakashvili awarded an order of St. George
to Bush for his contribution in development
of democracy in Georgia.
Both Mikheil Saakashvili and George W. Bush made the concept of “spreading democracy and liberty” a cornerstone of their speeches, delivered to a crowd of about 30 thousand Georgians gathered on Freedom Square on May 10. This ceremony was a central part of the U.S. President’s overnight visit to Georgia.
Local observers note that this visit and the statements made by the two Presidents can become a milestone in reshaping Georgia’s role for the United States. The general tone of George W. Bush's remarks was generous on broad issues, such as democracy but careful and even restrained on details - such as the Russian military bases in Georgia. The U.S. applauds Georgia for its intention to establish and promote democracy, but expects specific results before delivering the type of statement Latvians got when George W. Bush was visiting Riga on May 7: "We will stand with Latvia if a large country tries to intimidate the people."
President Saakashvili hinted on this very point when he announced at a news conference, after face-to-face talks with Bush on May 10, that cooperation between the two countries is about more than just oil pipelines - referring to the multi-billion dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, which is expected to be launched in late May.
“Our cooperation is more than only about strategic oil pipelines, or any economic cooperation - it is about our shared values of democracy and liberty,” Saakashvili said.
Like his U.S. counterpart, President Saakashvili also focused on democracy during his address to the Georgian citizens from Freedom Square and said that Georgia and the United States share a responsibility “to extend freedom.”
“This common belief [of democracy] imposes on us a shared responsibility to extend freedom to those who have been denied the right to make their own democratic choices. From Belarus - which you have rightly called the “last dictatorship in Europe” - to Cuba to Burma to the slave state of North Korea – there is a common view which brings us together in one purpose,” the Georgian President stated.
He said that the Rose revolution ended with the victory of liberty in Georgia, “but it continues with a new wave of democracy which is freeing more and more nations.” “Georgia will be your partner in spreading democracy around the world,” he added.
President Bush described Georgia as “a beacon of liberty for this region and the world.” “You are making many important contributions to freedom’s cause, but your most important contribution is your example. Hopeful changes are taking places from Baghdad to Beirut and Bishkek,” he added.
Bush hailed the reforms undertaken by the Georgian authorities but warned that there is still much work to be done. “The real change and real challenge is to build up free institutions in their place. This is difficult work… The American people will stand with you,” he added.
The resolution of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was another issue which Georgian side tried to focus on during the U.S. President’s visit. George Bush reiterated several times, both at a news conference and during his public speech, that these conflicts should be solved solely through peaceful means.
He linked the peaceful resolution of conflicts to Georgia’s aspirations to join Euro-Atlantic structures.
“Georgia's leaders know that the peaceful resolution of conflict is essential to your integration into the transatlantic community,” Bush said.
He also made it clear that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected - the territorial [integrity] and sovereignty of Georgia must be respected by all nations.”
Bush said that while the U.S. is ready to mediate to help resolve these conflicts, it is up to Tbilisi and the secessionist regions to find a final solution.
“Obviously, if the President were to call and wanted me to make a phone call or two, I'd be more than happy to do so. But this is a dispute that is going to be resolved by the Georgian government and by the folks in the separatist regions,” the U.S. President said.
He hailed Georgia’s proposals over granting broader autonomies to its breakaway regions as “constructive.” “One of the things that I was most appreciative of is [President Saakashvili's] full understanding of the need and the desire to settle these issues peacefully. And I'm confident, with good work and cooperation, we can solve them peacefully. He can solve them peacefully, with our help,” Bush added.
During his public speech on Freedom Square President Saakashvili reiterated that Georgia “does not need war, we need peace.”
Russia Military Bases
Before his arrival to Georgia on May 9, the U.S. President visited Moscow, almost immediately after the talks between Georgia and Russia on withdrawal of the military bases by 2008, as Tbilisi insisted, have collapsed.
Bush said in Tbilisi that he has discussed this issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He reminded me that there is an agreement in place – 1999 [OSCE] agreement. He said that Russia wants to work with the government [of Georgia] to fulfill the obligations in terms of that agreement and I think that is a commitment, an important commitment for the people of Georgia to hear - it shows there's grounds for work to get this issue resolved,” Bush said.
Thus the U.S. president refrained from throwing his personal weight behind the Georgia's tough negotiating stance towards Russia.