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August 5, 09

NEWS / United States Reaffirms Commitment to Georgias Sovereignty

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer
Washington — The United States stands by Georgia as it seeks a secure, democratic and united nation, a senior U.S. diplomat says.

But Georgia has more work to do to strengthen its government and political system, and there is no military option for the reintegration of Georgia’s two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said in congressional testimony August 4.

“Georgia should focus instead on political and economic reforms that will make it, over time, more attractive to the people in those regions,” Gordon said. The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe held the hearing to evaluate U.S. relations with Georgia. The United States has provided $1 billion to help Georgia rebuild after its five-day war with Russia in August 2008.

That money has been used to ease humanitarian hardship among displaced Georgians and to stabilize the nation’s banking system and wider economy, Gordon said. International donors have pledged an additional $3.5 billion to Georgia, including $800 million from the European Commission and European Union members.

Russia and Georgia fought over efforts by the Georgian government to retake control over the breakaway provinces. The Russians have stationed their forces in the two regions and recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To date, the only other nation to recognize the regions as independent states is Nicaragua. The United States repeatedly has said it does not recognize their independence and sent Vice President Biden to Tbilisi in July to reaffirm the U.S. position, Gordon said.

Biden told the Georgians during his visit that the United States does not recognize balance of power politics or Cold War-era spheres of influence. He repeated the U.S. support for Georgia in a telephone call August 4 with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

“We will continue to strongly support Georgia’s independence and sovereignty and its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” Gordon said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy brokered peace agreements between Georgia and Russia on August 12, 2008, and September 8, 2008, that included the stationing of 240 unarmed European monitors in Georgia to oversee a cease-fire. However, Russia has refused to allow the monitors into South Ossetia or Abkhazia, or to withdraw its forces to the positions they held before the August war, a requirement in the peace agreement.

Russia has also vetoed extensions of the United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring missions, Gordon said. Russia claimed this past weekend that Georgian forces had fired into South Ossetia, but EU monitors in Georgia have been instrumental in dispelling such false reports, he said, adding that such actions underscore the value of having the monitors in place.

Gordon also said that Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia’s eventual membership in NATO.

Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow, also appearing at the congressional hearing, said the United States has been helping the Georgian military at it moves closer to standards essential for NATO membership.

“The Department of Defense has not provided lethal military assistance to Georgia since last August,” Vershbow testified. “We have, however, identified some key areas where Georgia’s armed forces would benefit from U.S. support.”

A comprehensive assessment by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) found that Georgian defense institutions, strategies, doctrine and military education programs were “somewhat deficient,” Vershbow said. Some of Georgia’s projected defense spending is aimed at filling some of those gaps identified by EUCOM evaluators.

“Georgia has heeded the EUCOM assessment’s findings,” Vershbow said.

Georgia is modernizing its military structure and education system, and has drafted its annual national program for reform to meet NATO standards, along with a new general defense plan and a new national military strategy, he added.

Vershbow said Georgia has offered to contribute an infantry battalion in the first half of 2010 as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Georgia also said it will send an infantry company with French forces to Afghanistan later this year, he said.


Tags: us ins, form t, secretary of state,


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