WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- The United States has held its first bilateral meetings with a delegation from Georgia under the auspices of the new U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership, with both sides expressing satisfaction with the progress made in working groups.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg – a last-minute stand-in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recuperating from surgery on a broken elbow – said the two delegations held talks on June 22 on a range of issues of importance to both Georgia and the United States.
“Today, we’ve had working groups addressing the real breadth of our relationship, including working groups on the economy, defense and security, democracy, and people-to-people exchanges," Steinberg said. "And these meetings underscore the commitment that we have to implementing the important agreement -- our charter with Georgia -- as we deepen this strategic partnership.
The U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership, which was signed in Washington on January 9, has been widely touted in Tbilisi as a "historic" document that underscores Washington's unequivocal support for the Georgian government.
Some have even interpreted it as a surrogate guarantee of fast-track NATO membership after neither the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 nor the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in December 208 yielded a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP).
At a State Department press conference with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, Steinberg said the United States strongly supports the economic and political reforms Georgia is undertaking. He noted that the recent passage by Congress of the supplemental budget bill provides Georgia with $1 billion in assistance toward its goals.
The deputy secretary of state also expressed support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and thanked the country for its contributions to Western military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In our meetings today, as we continue to do, we reaffirmed our strong support for Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity," Steinberg said. "We will continue to support Georgia’s military professionalization, and to help Georgia as it contributes to coalition operations and undertakes the reforms required to achieve NATO membership. Georgia has made valuable contributions in the past to our operations in Iraq, and we are especially grateful for Georgia’s decision to do so again in Afghanistan.”
Vashadze called the daylong talks “a historic day for Georgia” and compared it to the day the charter was signed, back in January.
"Four working groups met each other and they discussed very specific, very precise proposals, which are going to be translated into international bilateral legal instruments," Vashadze said.
"It’s a historic day for Georgia, like it was when we signed the charter. It is [the] single most important agreement in [the] modern history of our country, since we regained our independence," he added.
Steinberg will also replace Clinton at a June 27-28 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Corfu, Greece.
The NATO-Russia summit will be the first since Russia's war with Georgia last summer.