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Georgian Foreign Minister Hopeful About Accord With U.S.

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze
Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze has said the U.S.-Georgian accord signed on January 9 will help Tbilisi reclaim the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Speaking at the Georgian Embassy in Washington on January 9, he complained that these regions, which Russia recognizes as independent states, were now being manipulated by Moscow.

Georgia and the United States signed a "charter on strategic partnership" that pledges deeper cooperation in the fields of defense, trade, and energy security.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on January 9 that signing the accord should advance Georgia's bid to become a NATO member.

"The United States supports, and will always support Georgia's sovereignty and its territorial integrity, as well as its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and its integration into the institutions of the Euro-Atlantic," Rice said.

The charter signed with Georgia doesn't require the United States to come to Georgia's defense, or commit either country to anything other than mutual cooperation on defense, economic, and political issues.

The outgoing administration of President George W. Bush signed a similar charter of cooperation with Ukraine in December.

Unclear Guarantees

Foreign Minister Vashadze stressed that there isn't really much new in the charter.

"One might ask, 'What's new?' I mean, a lot of American administrations stated that before, but, you know, one thing is a statement, even when you are going on record. But another thing is something which is signed for eternity and is a cornerstone of two countries' partnership," Vashadze said.

In April 2008, Washington's efforts to accelerate NATO membership for Georgia, as well as Ukraine, were stymied when NATO refused to admit them into the alliance's Membership Action Plan (MAP).
Had we had this instrument, this legal document, six months ago, chances for peace would have been much stronger.

The January 9 charter was signed five months after the August war between Georgia and Russia, which left parts of Georgia battle-scarred and two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in the hands of the Russian military.

The agreement is expected to help rebuild Georgia's army, which was badly weakened in the August war.

The accords that the United States has signed with Georgia and Ukraine are seen as being similar to the U.S.-Baltic Charter, which the United States signed with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1998.

Vashadze also had strong words for the Russian leadership.

He said the dispute between Georgia and Russia isn't territorial, or even economic, but ideological. He said Georgia serves as a menace to Moscow's authoritarian leadership, in particular Vladimir Putin, who has served two terms as Russia's president and is now the country's prime minister.

Vashadze said Putin is trying to restore the Soviet Union and serves as an impediment to democratic movements in Europe. He said Russia was a "stunning example" of how a small group of politicians can monopolize all revenues from the country's oil and gas while denying the country's citizens their basic human rights.

"We are speaking about a small monarchy in the Kremlin -- a gas and oil monarchy in the Kremlin. Because even during the Soviet Union, the Politburo really ran the country based on unanimity of decision. Today, one man [Putin] decides everything, and I think we all have serious cause to doubt his judgment," Vashadze said.

August War

Most observers say Russia probably wouldn't have gone to war with Georgia had it been a NATO member, because all other NATO members would have been required to come to Georgia's defense. Similarly, many believe that war could have been averted if NATO had granted MAP status to Georgia.

Vashadze said that if the charter had been in effect five months ago, it might have prevented the fighting.

"Had we had this instrument, this legal document, six months ago, chances for peace would have been much stronger. Actually, had NATO granted Georgia and Ukraine MAP in April, no war would have been happening in Georgia. That I can guarantee to you," Vashadze said.

"With this document, you cannot say that war might have been absolutely excluded, but, yes, we can say that chances for peace would have been much, much stronger."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze after signing the accord in Washington

The charter was signed only 11 days before U.S. President George W. Bush cedes power to his successor, President-elect Barack Obama. Vashadze was asked by reporters if his government had any assurances that the new administration would honor the document, and he replied that he was certain that it would.

"We are not dealing directly with the incoming administration, but, as we all know, this is one of the most successful and orderly stories of [U.S.] transition of power," Vashadze said.

"And there is no way the outgoing administration signs this kind of international legal instrument without consulting the incoming administration first."

After all, Vashadze said, U.S. foreign policy is based on principles that have been observed in Washington since the breakup of the Soviet Union. He said he has no reason to believe that the Obama administration will be any different.

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