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July 23, 09

NEWS / Biden Tells Georgians Democracy Requires Full Participation

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — Vice President Biden told the Georgian Parliament that the Rose Revolution that launched Georgia’s modern democratic government in 2003 will be complete only when the government is open, accountable and fully participatory.

“It requires every Georgian citizen, regardless of their political affiliation or their ethnicity, to take part in their government,” Biden said in a July 23 midafternoon speech to the parliament in Plenary Hall in Tbilisi.

Biden’s speech caps off a three-day trip to Ukraine and Georgia designed to reassure the Eastern European allies that the United States is fully committed to their sovereignty and security. The vice president stressed in his private talks with leaders and in his public addresses to the parliaments that any improvement in U.S. relations with Russia will not come at their expense.

“Our partnership rests on a foundation of shared democratic ideals. … We will continue to support your work to fulfill the democratic promise of six years ago,” Biden said.

But advancing democratic goals means addressing key constitutional issues regarding the balance of power between the parliament and the executive branch, and leveling the electoral playing field, the vice president said. A democracy requires a free, independent and professional press that provides the people with the kind of information they need to make informed decisions and to hold their government accountable for the decisions it makes, he said.

And a democracy requires an independent judiciary that adheres to the rule of law, Biden said. Finally, he added, it means the transfer of power from one president to the next occurs through peaceful, constitutional and democratic processes, not in the streets.

“We, the United States, stand by you on your journey to a secure, free and democratic, and once again united Georgia,” Biden told the parliament.

In Tbilisi Biden made comments similar to those he had made earlier before the Ukrainian Parliament in Kyiv: The United States stands by sovereign democracies and their right to make their own decisions and choose their own partnerships and alliances. Both Ukraine and Georgia are seeking membership in NATO and stronger ties to the Euro-Atlantic community.

President Obama was in Moscow two weeks ago to begin re-establishing U.S.-Russian relations. That had raised concerns among the Ukrainians and Georgians that the United States might sacrifice its support for them to improve its ties with Russia, which has become a critical U.S. partner in troublesome areas, including North Korea and Iran. Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the United States will stand by Ukraine and Georgia, Biden said.

Russia had expressed opposition to either nation becoming part of the North Atlantic Alliance. Last August Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that have since been recognized by Russia as independent states.

“We will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states,” Biden said.

Biden said the United States no longer accepts the 19th-century notion of spheres of influence, which was a dominant theme during the Cold War era in the 20th century. “It has no place in the 21st century,” he said.

The United States has urged the world not recognize the breakaway regions as independent states, Biden said. “We call upon Russia to honor its international commitments clearly specified in the … cease-fire agreement, including withdrawal of all forces to their pre-conflict positions, and ultimately out of Georgia.” Russia maintains a sizable military presence in both breakaway regions despite a cease-fire agreement that calls for their removal. The Russians have also objected to European peace monitors in Georgia.

Biden said the United States supports expansion of unarmed international monitors throughout Georgia and the disputed regions to promote peace and stability.

“I promised that my country would provide meaningful assistance to Georgia to help you recover” from the five-day war, the vice president said. “I am pleased to say that the United States has delivered on that commitment I made of $1 billion.”

Since August 2008, the United States has provided supplies and shelter to those displaced by the brief conflict, budgetary support to help the government meet obligations, reconstruction aid to help displaced Georgians return to their homes, and funding for roads and energy security, Biden said. Assistance has also been provided to strengthen Georgia’s civil society, legal system and independent media.



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