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Biden Pledges U.S. Support For Georgia


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at the presidential residence in Tbilisi

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at the presidential residence in Tbilisi

TBILISI -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has reiterated Washington's support for Georgia a year after its military was crushed during a five-day war with Russia.

His pledge comes as Moscow promised to prevent Tbilisi from rearming its military in a sharp reaction to Biden's visit.

Biden last visited Georgia during Russia's invasion in August. Speaking next to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on July 23 ahead of a closed-door meeting in Tbilisi's gleaming new palace, Biden said he was glad to be back "not watching Russians planes fly over and not seeing explosions in the distance."

"The reason why I am here today -- I would like to come back under any circumstances, but the president asked me to -- to make a demonstrable showing that we stand with you. It is about the future. And we, to the extent you want us to, want us to help you build that future, a strong, independent, and prosperous future," Biden said.

Biden's words come during a trip to Georgia and Ukraine meant to reassure the two former Soviet republics that American support would not be diminished by Washington's drive to improve relations with Moscow.

Saakashvili heaped praise on Biden and said Georgia was not concerned about U.S. President Barack Obama's attempt to reset relations with Russia during his visit to Moscow earlier this month:

"I want to thank President Obama for his very strong stand in Moscow, his talk about not allowing, in today's world, the 21st century, the spheres of influence. And for a country like Georgia, it is like music to our ears. We thank him for his moral leadership and for his absolute clarity on this," Saakashvili said.

'Partial Occupation'

Saakashvili also said U.S. support for Georgia is vital: "We are also a country under attack, under partial occupation, and we face constant challenges toward our democracy and our security. But despite all of that, our choice is irreversible. We decided to join the free world, Europe, the North Atlantic alliance."

Saakashvili is expected to ask Biden for advanced weapons, military aid, and U.S. observers to monitor the boundaries of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's two pro-Moscow breakaway regions. Russia maintains thousands of troops in both provinces in violation of a French-brokered cease-fire ending last summer's hostilities.

In an apparent reaction to Biden's visit, Moscow on July 23 said it would take "concrete measures" to prevent Georgia from rearming after its military was demolished during the invasion last year.

The ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as saying, "In recent months, we have observed efforts by some states to act in an underhand way to conceal military cooperation with the Georgian side, which includes masking it under the guise of 'humanitarian aid' to overcome the consequences of the conflict." Moscow has previously accused Washington of secretly arming Tbilisi.

In Georgia, Biden is due to meet opposition leaders today before delivering a speech to parliament. He's expected to urge Georgia to deepen its democratic reforms, a topic he mentioned ahead of his meeting with Saakashvili.

Biden was greeted in dramatic fashion on July 22, with hundreds waving to his motorcade waving banners saying "We count on you!"

But officials in Tbilisi will be wondering what concrete steps Washington is willing to take to back its promises of support.

RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore contributed to this report
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