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U.S. Secretary Of State Backs Strengthened Georgia Defenses

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton share a laugh prior to a meeting in Batumi on June 5.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton share a laugh prior to a meeting in Batumi on June 5.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to help train Georgia in coastal defense and urged President Mikheil Saakashvili to hold free and fair parliamentary elections.

Clinton, who was in Georgia as part of her Caucasus tour, met with Georgian officials for talks on bolstering the nation's defense capacity.

After meeting with President Mikheil Saakashvili on June 5, she told a joint news conference that Washington expects "Georgia will hold free and fair elections...and then complete a democratic transfer of power in 2013."

Saakashvili, who was elected after peaceful protests in 2003 dubbed the Rose Revolution, has dominated Georgia's political scene. Critics say he has made it hard for other leaders to emerge.

"You have taken important steps since the Rose Revolution, and your progress has been noted worldwide," Clinton said earlier in the day. "Now it is up to Georgia to consolidate your democratic gains. That is the key to Georgia's future, and it will bring Georgia closer to achieving your Euro-Atlantic aspirations."

Clinton, who took part in a "strategic dialogue" with Georgian officials in the Black Sea city of Batumi, also inaugurated a Georgian Coast Guard vessel refurbished with U.S. financial assistance and pledged Washington's commitment to helping Georgia defend its territorial waters.

The United States has already provided Georgia, its long-term ally in the Caucasus, with maritime communications and observation equipment. It now plans to give Tbilisi two refurbished U.S. Coast Guard vessels and is building a ship repair depot to maintain Georgia's growing fleet of patrol boats.

Clinton also reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia's territorial integrity and called on Russia to pull out from Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"We reject Russia's occupation and militarization of Georgian territory," she said. "And we call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 cease-fire agreement including withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance."

Russia recognized the independence of the regions after fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008, but most of the rest of the world continues to view the regions as part of Georgia.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

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