Matthew Bryza (file photo) (Turan)
November 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza has been dispatched to Tbilisi to urge the Georgian government to lift the state of emergency imposed after antigovernment protests were violently dispersed by riot police earlier this week. He spoke to David Kakabadze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service about the message he has for the Georgian leadership, and for the opposition.
RFE/RL: Please tell us, Mr. Bryza, what message are you going to deliver to President Mikheil Saakashvili?
Matthew Bryza: My message is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's message, which is, we call for the immediate lifting of the state of emergency and restoration of all media broadcasts. Precisely because we know these are essential steps to ensure that the elections announced by President Saakashvili are free and fair.
We did note yesterday that we welcome that announcement by President Saakashvili. And that announcement reminds us, how important Georgia is to the United States in a strategic sense -- because of its commitment to democracy. We are friends of Georgia, we are friends of all of those who fight for, and build democracy in Georgia.
RFE/RL: President Saakashvili keeps saying that on November 7 not only the Georgian state was saved, but also the Georgian democracy. But, do you think democracy can be saved with truncheons and tear gas?
Bryza: Democracy can be saved in Georgia if responsible leaders of both the opposition and the government sit down together in a spirit of compromise and in a spirit of friendship that has long governed their relations and chart out concrete next steps to strengthen democratic institutions in Georgia. That's how you restore democracy.
RFE/RL: In more general terms, was November 7 a blow to Georgian democracy?
Bryza: It remains to be seen. We regret that excessive force, or force was used, we also want to make sure that everybody, on all sides, be they opposition leaders or the government, again, are thinking how to move forward constructively. It's not constructive to accuse the president of being a terrorist or of being a criminal, or calling for his overthrow by unconstitutional means. But it's also not constructive to fail to sit down with people of other views, and talk through how to strengthen Georgia's democratic institutions. November 7 was a shock because of the factors I've just outlined but there is plenty of opportunity to get the entire situation back on track through the pass of a free and fair set of elections.
RFE/RL: Will you be meeting opposition leaders as well in Tbilisi?
Bryza: Absolutely. I always do, every time I'm in Georgia. They were here in Washington recently, I have many friends in the opposition movement just as I have many friends in the government, or at least I hope I'm not being so presumptuous, but I believe that these people are all my friends.
RFE/RL: You and other U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Georgia should maintain good relations with Russia. How do you see in this context the recent accusations by Georgian authorities directed against Russian diplomats, which was followed by the expulsion of three of them. Or, another example, the late-October incident in Ganmukhuri, in western Georgia?
Bryza: I see that the Georgian government is very serious about these accusations, I see that at least one opposition leader has fled to Russia, which, you know, makes some sort of a statement.
I also see that the tension that has bubbled to the surface here rather vibrantly in Georgia is indigenous. It's primarily a Georgian phenomenon. What happened at the camp in Ganmukhuri was a very unfortunate incident that is still being investigated by our friends at the United Nations. The initial indications are that there were CIS peacekeepers in a place where they've never been before in what was a very aggressive activity, and then we see there was a reaction by the Georgian side, and pushing and shoving resulted and it ended up being a very ugly incident.
What I can say is that any serious development was avoided, any real violence was avoided in Ganmukhuri, thank goodness, [then] President Saakashvili showed up. I would say, in this current crisis President Saakashvili showed statesmanship yesterday, and we hope he will do the same now in coming weeks. You know, I think that the Georgian people are anxious for the president to show the same vision and the same leadership that lead the country through the Rose Revolution.
RFE/RL: Just a few hours ago, the Russian Foreign Minister in a news conference in Moscow said: "we do not dictate to Georgian politicians what to do or how, or when they should do it. We do not spend hours explaining to them what they ought to do." Does Washington spend hours explaining what they ought to do?
Bryza: No. Georgia is a sovereign country with a sovereign government and a president who in the last election won 97 percent of the vote. Georgia is our friend, we don't even need to make statements like that to clarify that we don't tell Georgia what to do because that's understood. We treat Georgia as a friend, as a partner.
That said, people like myself have long-standing friendships and contacts with people throughout Georgian society, in both the opposition and the government, and in a situation of tension, it's essential that there's clear communication, so my job is to try to make sure everybody has the clearest possible messages from the U.S. government and that I can make my own humble contribution to facilitating communication between the various parties. But I certainly would never presume that I would have the ability or the right to tell the Georgian government what to do.
RFE/RL: On November 8, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. government was disappointed with the state of emergency in Georgia. People in Georgia would certainly want to find out how disappointed the U.S. government is. Could it mean decreasing support for Georgia in its effort to join NATO, for instance?
Bryza: The United States believes the enlargement of NATO to include Georgia as Georgia fulfills membership criteria is in our fundamental national interests, full stop. Georgia is a democracy. Georgia is going through a difficult moment and is a key decision-making moment and we have confidence that the political leadership of Georgia will make the choices that will strengthen democracy and restore the faith of all of Georgia's voters in the democratic reform process, and it's that very democratic reform process that is an important element of NATO membership for Georgia. So we are not ready at all to say that Georgia is no longer on the path of democratization and we are absolutely ready to say we fully support Georgia in its NATO aspirations, as it fulfills NATO criteria, of course.
RFE/RL: Even after what happened on November 7?
Bryza: What happened on November 7 does not affect our calculations of what is in the United States' national interest and what is a history of NATO accepting countries that fulfill accession criteria. Again, I'm hoping, I'm assuming Georgia will continue to fulfill those criteria including on democratic reform. So therefore, here would be no shift in our policy.
RFE/RL: So you believe there is still some chance for Georgia to get the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the NATO summit in Bucharest next April?
Bryza: You've formulated that question in a very careful way. Is there some chance? Of course there is some chance. To secure MAP by Bucharest [summit time] there needs to be vigorous effort to restore the faith of all Georgian citizens in the democratic processes of the country and that means to strengthen the democratic institutions and to do that it's essential that there be crystal-clear signs from our friends in the Georgian government that everything possible will be done ensure the upcoming elections are free and fair. Then the Georgian people will decide their own political future and when they do, then we'll see if Georgia is back on track for everything -- for its democratic and its NATO aspirations. But a lot has to be done, of course, to get back on track in that way.
RFE/RL: One of the most serious problems Georgia is facing at the moment is the problem of separatism. Are there any plans in Washington to increase the U.S. support, or the U.S. role in helping Georgia resolve these conflicts?
Bryza: The U.S. level of support and participation in efforts to help Georgia resolve these conflicts and restore Georgia's territorial integrity is intense, is high already. I have the honor of being responsible on a daily basis for those efforts, and I can tell you that at the highest level, the very highest level, be it at the White House, where I worked for four years, or here, working for Secretary Rice whom I've known for well over 20 years, there is unequivocal support for Georgia's territorial integrity and for our efforts to resolve these conflicts peacefully, in a way that strengthens and restores its territorial integrity. So, have no doubt, any friends in Georgia, about our firm commitment to achieving such settlements of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts.