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Georgia: 'Not An Ordinary State Visit'

Bush with Saakashvili RFE/RL correspondent Robert Parsons was in Tbilisi today for U.S. President George W. Bush's visit. These are his impressions.

"He (President Bush) spoke really, most of all, about Georgia's contribution to democracy and praised Georgia as a 'beacon of liberty,' not just in the region, but for the world as whole. He also praised Georgia's contribution to spreading democracy throughout the former Soviet Union.

"He spoke, too, about Georgia's contribution even further afield, in the Middle East, Georgia's part in sending troops to Iraq. He mentioned that at a time when the situation in Iraq was getting worse, when terrorism was getting stronger that Georgia quintupled the number of troops they had in Iraq and he thanked the Georgians for that.

Crowds Packed The Square

"It was a very big crowd, indeed, in bright, bright sunshine. And they were extremely receptive. Every time he [President Bush] paused for a breath, they cheered and clapped, and at the end, they sang the Georgian national anthem after President Bush thanked them for all their efforts in doing what they've done in Georgia in the last year-and-a-half.

"They were quite an undiscriminating crowd. Every time he [President Bush] said something, they cheered. Of course, every time he referred specifically to Georgia and what Georgians were doing and what Georgia's contribution to bringing democracy to the rest of the world was, they probably cheered a little bit louder. But I have to say, they cheered every single sentence he uttered.
"I think Georgians feel touched, more than anything else"

"On a personal level, I think Georgians feel touched, more than anything else, that George Bush has come to Georgia. It is a gesture of support. I think they understand that it is just a gesture, that it won't necessarily translate into concrete steps. But it is a sign that, as George Bush said himself, that Georgia doesn't stand alone, that there is a giant power in the world which sees it as a friend and I think for Georgia, at a time of great difficulty, which this is at the moment, that means something.

"Of course, they hope that it [the visit] will translate into more money, that it will translate into the United States providing even firmer support for Georgia in its occasional clashes with Russia over its borders and over the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia. But, for the moment, I think they are content just that he has come here and offered this gesture of support.

Un-state-like Visit

"What I would say, most of all, about this visit is just how unlike an ordinary state visit it has been. There has been all the usual ceremony, all the usual visits to parliament, meetings with political leaders, and so on and so forth. But what struck me most of all yesterday was just how spontaneous the whole thing was. It certainly had the U.S. security in a state of panic. Saakashvili said yesterday at a private reception that they were driving the U.S. security guards absolutely nuts, in his own words, and he was speaking in English.

"At one stage yesterday, when George Bush was brought to a concert in the old part of Tbilisi, instead of going into the restaurant as planned, he got up onto the stage where the dancers were, where the singers were, was clapping, joining in, he was almost ready to start dancing himself and that went on for at least half-an-hour. It was completely unscripted. And I think that really summed up the nature of this visit. It was a very spontaneous, very warm, very feel-good visit. The Georgians, of course, they want it to be more than that. They will hope that the feel-good nature of it will translate into something more concrete, into even more economic support than they are getting. And we have to remember the Georgians are getting a lot of economic support, not just from the United States, but from the European Union as well. But they will be hoping for even more.

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