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Georgia: Shevardnadze Voices Support For Military Action

  • Michael Lelyveld

Boston, 4 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze voiced strong support yesterday for a military response to the terrorism crisis, but he also warned that his country was being falsely accused of providing a haven for terrorists.

In a speech at Harvard University at the start of a three-day visit to the United States, Shevardnadze, speaking in Georgian with an interpreter, said, "In its struggle against terrorism, the international community will not be able to avoid the use of force."

The Georgian president left no doubt that he stands with the United States following what he called the "unspeakable events" of 11 September.

Shevardnadze, who is widely respected in the West for helping to bring a peaceful end to the Soviet Union as its foreign minister, gave his backing to U.S. initiatives, including a national missile defense:

"In the situation we are facing today, the sooner the United States creates missile defense technologies, the more the world will gain."

Georgia announced earlier this week that it will open its airspace for a possible U.S. operation in Afghanistan. Shevardnadze was expected to visit the site of New York's World Trade Center later in the day before flying to Washington for talks that include meetings Friday (5 October) with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But in his remarks at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the 73-year-old leader also called for new bridges between civilizations to address the causes of terrorist conflicts.

Shevardnadze said, "Today, it is obvious that mankind will not survive unless the trends are reversed." He added, "Without question, enhancement of military technologies must go hand in hand with moral progress."

He criticized the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in the wake of last month's attacks, saying that it had been reduced to issuing "innocuous resolutions:"

"Unfortunately, the UN Security Council in its present form has almost completely exhausted its possibilities and in fact has been reduced to issuing innocuous resolutions."

Shevardnadze said he had appealed to the world body to convene a summit to fight terrorism.

He also addressed the issue of NATO's future role on the world stage. The Georgian leader, who has in the past expressed cautious interest in seeing his country become a member of the military alliance, said NATO was still relevant and would benefit from expansion:

"Rather than to be disbanded, NATO needs further strengthening, because it is the cornerstone of establishing humanistic values and stability in Eurasian region. Therefore, seeking NATO membership is an unalienable right of each and every democratic state in Europe. Thus, to draw any red lines on the continent is completely unacceptable in present circumstances."

A major part of Shevardnadze's address was devoted to his own country's experience, both in fighting a war against separatists in Abkhazia and defending itself against Russian charges that it harbors rebel forces from Chechnya.

Shevardnadze sought to craft his own definition of terrorism, including what he called "aggressive nationalism, aggressive separatism, xenophobia, and bigotry." He said that he has been the target of three assassination attempts, two of which have been publicized.

Shevardnadze said, "It is no secret that the chief orchestrator of these acts lives comfortably in Russia to this day." The reference was to Igor Giorgadze, the former Georgian security minister, who is the subject of an international warrant.

At the same time, Shevardnadze said that Georgia has been under heavy pressure from Russia because it has hosted refugees from the conflict in Chechnya and refused to allow Moscow access for military operations.

Shevardnadze said, "Russian accusations have sharply increased against the backdrop of recent developments." Georgia has been portrayed in the Russian media "as a state harboring terrorists," the president said. Shevardnadze argued that Russia's attempt was to spread the war in Chechnya onto Georgian soil.

The visit, which was scheduled before the 11 September crisis, is likely to be dominated by security concerns. The Bush administration is expected to voice its unwavering support for Shevardnadze's long struggle to preserve Georgia's independence and civil liberties in the face of separatist conflicts and outside pressures.

Shevardnadze, who has led Georgia since 1992, is due to meet today with journalists, academics, business leaders, and officials at the Pentagon, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund in Washington.

This week, Washington also praised Georgia's agreement with Azerbaijan last Saturday (29 September), clearing the way for a $1 billion Caspian gas line to be built across the two countries to Turkey. Shevardnadze's trip may have served as a deadline for ending an agonizing nine-month stalemate over transit fees.

The project will diversify Georgia's energy sources and aid the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which has been a policy goal of the United States. Backers believe that some costs can be saved by building a gas line along the same route.

But Fiona Hill, a fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Shevardnadze is also likely to face criticism over Georgia's lack of progress in fighting corruption.

Hill told RFE/RL, "The concern has been building that Shevardnadze is one of the obstacles to reform." She added, "The feeling is that he's only done the bare minimum and paid lip service to fighting corruption."

Last month, Mikhail Saakashvili resigned as Georgia's justice minister to protest the lack of action against corruption. In August, parliamentary leader Zurab Zhvania published an open letter to Shevardnadze, denouncing what he called the "tragic failure of the government and its clearly fictitious actions in addressing the corruption problem."

Both moves have been seen as signs that support for Shevardnadze is quickly eroding. The president announced recently that he will not seek re-election in 2003.

In response to a question about corruption, Shevardnadze deferred a detailed answer, saying he would address the subject during a speech in Washington.

But the Georgian president promised: "We are absolutely ready to begin this combat against corruption. We have already begun, and this is going to be a long, protracted struggle against corruption."